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Phillips: Why Jones' Deserved HOF Call Could Help Darren Woodson's Chances

FRISCO, Texas – On Aug. 5, Jerry Jones will formally take his rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Perhaps his induction – a triumphant recognition of his impact on the Cowboys and the NFL itself – can also shine an even brighter light on one of the league's great dynasties.

Specifically, Darren Woodson's Canton candidacy.

Jones is the 16th person to make the Hall of Fame based on his accomplishments with the Cowboys. Six other inductees contributed to Jones' Cowboys juggernaut of the 1990s: Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Larry Allen, Charles Haley and Deion Sanders.

Woodson deserves to join them in pro football's most exclusive club.

This year he was named a modern-era semifinalist for a second time since becoming Hall-of-Fame eligible in 2009. He hasn't yet moved to the finalist stage reserved annually for 15 modern-era candidates.

Woodson's Canton credentials are well documented, at least in these parts. The hard-hitting safety made five Pro Bowls and received four first-team All-Pro honors. He's the all-time leading tackler for a franchise that has won five Super Bowls, including three during his 12-year career.

For all the credit given to the Triplets and their dominant offensive line – all of it deserved – the Cowboys' defense was a formidable group, too. From 1992-96 – a stretch that produced the three Lombardi Trophies along with five straight playoff appearances and five straight division titles – the Cowboys ranked top-five in the league in fewest points allowed. The average over those five seasons, according to Pro Football Reference: 15.8 points per game.

That's incredible. Yet, Haley is the only Hall of Famer to play on the Cowboys' defense for that entire five-year period. Sanders signed with Dallas in 1995, coming off a Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers in 1994, and helped the Cowboys win their third title of the decade in his first of five seasons with the franchise.

We're talking about arguably the greatest team ever assembled. The argument certainly can be made that more than a couple players should represent the defense in Canton.

Woodson was such a versatile asset to that group, giving Dallas a physical presence in the defensive backfield as well as an adept cover safety who could move into the slot and cover receivers and tight ends. Since his retirement following the 2004 season he sat out due to a back injury, Byron Jones is probably the first Cowboys safety to offer a similar type of skill set – though a direct comparison to Woodson isn't fair to the 24-year-old Jones.

Will Woodson be the next Cowboy in the Hall of Fame at some point in the future? Though he didn't reach the finalist stage, this year's selection process could be an encouraging sign for Woodson and all safety candidates.

Kenny Easley made the 2017 Class as a seniors committee finalist. Brian Dawkins and John Lynch, two safety stars from Woodson's era, were among the 15 modern-era finalists. And Woodson was among 26 modern-era semifinalists, so he's certainly in the conversation.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame's official website lists only 12 inductees at the safety position, with some also carrying the cornerback designation: Easley, Paul Krause, Emlen Tunnel, Willie Wood, Larry Wilson, Aeneas Williams, Ronnie Lott, former Cowboys great Mel Renfro, Rod Woodson, Ken Houston, Yale Lary and Jack Christiansen.

Perhaps that list will grow in the coming years. There likely will be more competition for Woodson and others when two recent safety stars, Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu, become Hall-of-Fame eligible.

Woodson made the Cowboys Ring of Honor in 2015. In two weeks he's going into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.

Perhaps, at some point down the road, Canton will be next.

Jones' induction will evoke memories of those '90s Cowboys and all the greats who contributed to one of the best runs in NFL history – including Woodson.

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