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David Moore’s all-time Cowboys team: A look at the best players from the Tom Landry and Jerry Jones eras

A single all-time team won't do America's Team justice, so Moore compiled a team from each era.

Editor’s note: The following story is a part of Classic Cowboys, a subscriber-only magazine that will be included in the Aug. 30 print editions of The Dallas Morning News. To subscribe, click here.

Historians will tell you there are two distinct eras of Cowboys success.

So can any fan worth his or her branded, cloth face covering or Ezekiel Elliott bobblehead, so let’s not act like some great secret has been unearthed.

The first 29 years under the stoic leadership of Tom Landry produced five trips to the Super Bowl and two titles.

The next 31 years under the fervent ownership of Jerry Jones yielded three more Lombardi trophies and unprecedented financial heights.

Putting together a single All-Time Team doesn’t do this franchise justice. So we’ve compiled a team from each era in addition to the composite group.

Praise is appreciated. Complaints are expected.

That happens when a franchise has a history this rich.

All-Time Team

OFFENSE

WR: Drew Pearson

11 seasons

His exclusion from the Hall of Fame is inexplicable. That doesn’t diminish his impact on the franchise.

LT: Tyron Smith

9 seasons

He mentioned in his opening news conference that his goal was to make the Hall of Fame. He’s on his way.

LG: Larry Allen

12 seasons

A man of few words and countless obliterating blocks. The rare member of two NFL All-Decade teams.

C: Mark Stepnoski

9 seasons

There’s some stiff competition here, but he did start in two Super Bowls and made an All-Decade team.

RG: Zack Martin

Dallas Cowboys offensive guard Zack Martin (70) looks up as he exits the field after warmups before a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana on Sunday, September 29, 2019.
Dallas Cowboys offensive guard Zack Martin (70) looks up as he exits the field after warmups before a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana on Sunday, September 29, 2019.(Vernon Bryant / Staff Photographer)

6 seasons

The fact he makes this team in only six seasons speaks to how dominant he’s become. The best guard of his generation.

RT: Rayfield Wright

13 seasons

The best offensive tackle in franchise history was drafted by the Cowboys as a tight end and spent some time in the defensive line.

TE: Jason Witten

16 seasons

Only three players in league history have caught more passes. He would be known as “Mr. Cowboy'' if Bob Lilly didn’t beat him to it.

WR: Michael Irvin

12 seasons

The fiery, emotional soul of a team that won three titles. Went over 1,000 yards in five straight and seven of eight seasons.

QB: Roger Staubach

Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach (12) scrambles for yardage during the final minutes of a playoff victory over the Minnesota Vikings in their famous playoff game on Dec. 28, 1975, at the Met Stadium in Minneapolis. Staubach also threw his famous "Hail Mary Pass" to Drew Pearson (not pictured) in this contest.
Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach (12) scrambles for yardage during the final minutes of a playoff victory over the Minnesota Vikings in their famous playoff game on Dec. 28, 1975, at the Met Stadium in Minneapolis. Staubach also threw his famous "Hail Mary Pass" to Drew Pearson (not pictured) in this contest.(RHODES, John F. / Old B&W Photo)

11 seasons

The most iconic and beloved player in franchise history. “Captain America'' or “Captain Comeback,‘' take your pick.

RB: Emmitt Smith

13 seasons

The NFL’s all-time leading rusher with 18,355 yards. Hard to see that record being broken with how the league has evolved.

WR: Bob Hayes

10 seasons

Gold medal speed changed how the position was played. His impact went beyond his statistical accomplishments.

DEFENSE

LE: DeMarcus Ware

FILE - DeMarcus Ware (94) celebrates a forced fumble.
FILE - DeMarcus Ware (94) celebrates a forced fumble.(Vernon Bryant)

9 seasons

Technically he was an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Technically, he had more sacks (138.5) than any player in franchise history.

DT: Randy White

14 seasons

Is there a better nickname out there than the “Manster?‘' The driving force behind the team’s Doomsday Defense.

DT: Bob Lilly

14 seasons

First player drafted in franchise history. First player inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor. First Cowboys player to go into the Hall of Fame.

RE: Charles Haley

5 seasons

Transformed the Cowboys defense into something special after his arrival from San Francisco. Team won three titles in his first four seasons.

LB: Chuck Howley

13 seasons

Only player of a losing team to be named Super Bowl MVP. When Howley retired, Tom Landry said he didn’t know if he ever saw a better linebacker.

MLB: Lee Roy Jordan

14 seasons

A lot of middle linebackers were bigger, but few were better. Once had three interceptions in the span of five minutes.

LB: Sean Lee

10 seasons

Instincts for the position and willingness to put in hours of study set him apart. Injuries have lowered the ceiling on his career.

CB: Mel Renfro

14 seasons

Argument can be made that he’s the best corner and safety in franchise history. Holds Cowboys record with 52 interceptions.

CB: Deion Sanders

In this Nov. 23, 1997 file photo, Green Bay Packers Derrick Mayes (80) and Tyrone Davis can't catch up as Dallas Cowboys' Deion Sanders returns an interception for a touchdown during the second quarter of an NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis..
In this Nov. 23, 1997 file photo, Green Bay Packers Derrick Mayes (80) and Tyrone Davis can't catch up as Dallas Cowboys' Deion Sanders returns an interception for a touchdown during the second quarter of an NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis..

5 seasons

A lockdown corner and dangerous punt returner. Regarded as the biggest free agent move in franchise history.

SS: Darren Woodson

12 seasons

He keeps knocking on the Hall of Fame door but has yet to be welcomed in. Has more tackles than any player in franchise history.

FS: Cliff Harris

10 seasons

Washington coach George Allen called him “a rolling ball of butcher knives.” Is a 2020 Hall of Fame inductee.

SPECIALISTS

K: Dan Bailey

FILE - Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey (5) kicks a field goal during a game against the Raiders at the Oakland-Alameda County Stadium in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017.
FILE - Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey (5) kicks a field goal during a game against the Raiders at the Oakland-Alameda County Stadium in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017. (Louis DeLuca / Staff Photographer)

7 seasons

Franchise leader in field goals made (186) and percentage (.882).

P: Danny White

13 seasons

Averaged 40.1 yards a kick and covered a franchise-record 24,571 yards in his career. Oh yeah, he was also a pretty good quarterback.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Bill Bates

15 seasons

His 216 tackles on special teams is far and away the most in club history.

Hall of Famers excluded

QB Troy Aikman

RB Tony Dorsett

LANDRY ERA TEAM

Offense

FILE - Drew Pearson catching Roger Staubach's iconic Hail Mary pass on Dec. 28, 1975.
FILE - Drew Pearson catching Roger Staubach's iconic Hail Mary pass on Dec. 28, 1975.

WR Drew Pearson

LT Ralph Neely

LG John Niland

C John Fitzgerald

RG Blaine Nye

RT Rayfield Wright

TE Billy Joe DuPree

WR Bob Hayes

QB Roger Staubach

RB Tony Dorsett

RB Don Perkins

Defense

Pictured here is Bob Lilly (74), Pro Football Hall of Famer, Super Bowl VI champion, Cowboys defensive tackle and former TCU All-America selection, who was born in 1939 in Olney, Texas.
Pictured here is Bob Lilly (74), Pro Football Hall of Famer, Super Bowl VI champion, Cowboys defensive tackle and former TCU All-America selection, who was born in 1939 in Olney, Texas.(DMN File)

LE Ed Jones

DT Randy White

DT Bob Lilly

RE Harvey Martin

LB Dave Edwards

MLB Lee Roy Jordan

LB Chuck Howley

CB Mel Renfro

CB Everson Walls

SS Cornell Green

FS Cliff Harris

Specialists

K Rafael Septien

P Danny White

Special teams

Bill Bates

Toughest player to exclude

S Charlie Waters.

JONES ERA TEAM

Offense

In this Jan. 30, 1994, file photo, Dallas Cowboys' head coach Jimmy Johnson hugs quarterback Troy Aikman in their locker room after defeating the Buffalo Bills 30-13 in Super Bowl XXVIII at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
In this Jan. 30, 1994, file photo, Dallas Cowboys' head coach Jimmy Johnson hugs quarterback Troy Aikman in their locker room after defeating the Buffalo Bills 30-13 in Super Bowl XXVIII at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.(Charles Krupa / AP)

WR Michael Irvin

LT Tyron Smith

LG Larry Allen

C Mark Stepnoski

RG Zack Martin

RT Erik Williams

TE Jason Witten

WR Dez Bryant

QB Troy Aikman

RB Emmitt Smith

FB Daryl Johnston

Defense

FILE - Cowboys outside linebacker Sean Lee (50) smiles on the sideline during the fourth quarter of a game against Washington on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
FILE - Cowboys outside linebacker Sean Lee (50) smiles on the sideline during the fourth quarter of a game against Washington on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.(Ashley Landis / Staff Photographer)

LE DeMarcus Ware

DT La’Roi Glover

DT Jay Ratliff

RE Charles Haley

LB Sean Lee

LB Dat Nguyen

LB Dexter Coakley

CB Deion Sanders

CB Terrence Newman

SS Darren Woodson

FS Roy Williams

Specialists

K Dan Bailey

P Mat McBriar

Special teams

Kenny Gant

Toughest player to exclude

G Nate Newton

+++

Find more Cowboys stories from The Dallas Morning News here.

In This Story

Dallas Cowboys

Executive Leadership

  • Offensive Coordinator: Kellen Moore
  • COO: Stephen Jones
  • Executive Vice President/Chief Brand Officer: Charlotte Jones Anderson
  • Chief Sales and Marketing Officer/Executive Vice President: Jerry Jones Jr.
  • Head Coach: Mike McCarthy
  • Owner: Jerry Jones
  • Defensive Coordinator: Mike Nolan

Local Headquarters

Frisco, TX

Contact

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David Moore, Cowboys Insider. David is in his 4th decade of covering sports on the DFW scene. You know what that means. He's old.

dmoore@dallasnews.com @DavidMooreDMN
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