Happy Dallas Cowboys Day!
That’s right, baby. America’s Team is playing in a 60-minute long game of football this evening. The game will take place at Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers, which will play host to the most primetime event of the 2015 NFL season… Super Bowl 50.
As we continue our Countdown To Kickoff series with the Greatest 21 in Dallas Cowboys History, the current Dallas Cowboys will hope to ride the waves of success generated by their current 21 into the primetime lights.
Part of that process will happen tonight as the Cowboys look to fine tune their roster and see which players they want to carry into the regular season on their quest to Super Bowl 50. Before that happens we’re going to establish just who is the Greatest 21 in Dallas Cowboys History.
The Following Players Have All Worn 21 For The Dallas Cowboys:
^Pro Football Hall of Famer
*Active player on the Dallas Cowboys roster
The 1989 NFL Draft gave us the flashiest player to ever enter the NFL - Deion Sanders. The former Florida State Seminole was beginning a professional baseball career with the New York Yankees, but he was also one of the finest cornerback prospects to ever enter the NFL.
At the NFL Combine teams that are considering drafting players conduct interviews with them where they ask a series of questions, regarding football or anything in general. Deion famously would not show up to his interviews with teams not picking in the top 10 because they had “no shot at getting him,” as Deion was surely going in the top five.
The Atlanta Falcons did in fact spend the fifth overall pick on Deion Sanders and the lights of the NFL all gravitated towards its newest star.
Sanders paid off his high price when he returned the first punt that he fielded for a touchdown. That was the thing about Deion, he was so gifted as an overall athlete that he could do far more than just play the corner position.
Deion spent five years in the ATL establishing himself as one of the game’s biggest playmakers. He developed into the most feared corner throughout the league. He was so quick and so athletic that he literally took up an entire half of the field with his coverage.
The San Francisco 49ers signed Deion to a one-year contract entering the 1994 season. He brought his usual greatness as he returned three interceptions for touchdowns that season. One of the greater things about Deion, if you were on the right side of this, was his celebrations down the sideline. After he’d pick you off he would dance his way all to the endzone, high-steppin’ the whole way. He and his wild personality helped the 49ers beat the Cowboys in that NFC Championship Game and win Super Bowl XXIX.
Entering the 1995 season Deion Sanders was yet again a free agent. He was the hottest commodity on the market and he was commanding amounts of money that proved that. The Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, and San Francisco 49ers all wanted #21 on their roster.
Jerry Jones is a businessman like no other. When starting cornerback Kevin Smith was lost to injury early in the 1995 season, Mr. Jones knew that the acquisition of Deion would now be more than a prize… it became a necessity. Jerry wooed Deion down to Dallas, finally settling on a then-record seven year contract worth $35 million dollars.
Deion didn’t make his Cowboy debut until Week 9 of the 1995 season, a game that was played against his original team… the Atlanta Falcons. The Cowboys trumped Atlanta and began to pick up momentum towards the playoffs.
Deion only recorded 2 interceptions in the 1995 season, but his effect was certainly felt. In Super Bowl XXX against the Pittsburgh Steelers the mere threat of Deion forced Neil O’Donnell elsewhere… and in the direction of Larry Brown, who picked off O’Donnell twice.
Sanders and the Cowboys were champions, and in a Cowboy uniform Deion had developed into an even bigger megastar. Over the course of his career he seemed to have his biggest performances when the lights were brightest and the attention was highest. It was due to this that Deion Sanders generated one of the greatest nicknames in sports history… Primetime.
Primetime was one of the most fun players to watch in his career. He put together 14 interceptions in just 5 years with the Cowboys, but he brought a level of fear to the secondary that influenced the game far beyond any statistic can measure.
21st And Prime
Deion can currently be seen on NFL Network and CBS as he’s a part of the Thursday Night Game crew. His primetime persona has followed him into the tv studio as he’s always got something clever to say. Following all of the games on Sundays he usually picks his top 10 performances of the day and counts them down in his “21st and Prime” segment.
Deion Sanders is arguably the greatest cornerback to ever live, and while his most impressive run was with the Atlanta Falcons he did the number 21 proudly during his time in Dallas. 21 still has an air of “prime” to it and Cowboy fans everywhere are hoping that Joseph Randle can continue that trend as the Cowboys look to have a superb season with him running the rock.
Primetime was one of the greatest showmen that the NFL has ever seen. He is already a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2011, and will forever be someone that people remember across generations of football. 21 may not be a prime number, but the jersey is… and Deion Sanders is the Greatest 21 in Dallas Cowboys History.
Check back tomorrow to find out who the Greatest 20 in Dallas Cowboys History is!
Should Cowboys Reunite Shea McClellin With Rod Marinelli?
Since becoming the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, Rod Marinelli hasn't had too many of his former players follow him to Dallas. In fact, I can only think of one… Henry Melton, and we all know how that turned out.
I don't know about you, but I found that a little strange. It's pretty common for coaches to try to bring some of their players with them when they accept a new job. Familiarity goes a long way in the NFL and former players can also help make the transition easier for everyone.
Strangely enough, Rod Marinelli hasn't really been afforded that luxury, whether it was his doing or not. But, there is a free agent who played under Marinelli's tutelage in Chicago who might make sense for the Dallas Cowboys, linebacker Shea McClellin.
Rod Marinelli was the defensive coordinator in Chicago when the Bears decided to draft Shea McClellin 19th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. Marinelli likely had a big say in that decision, and if he still feels the same, a reunion could be in order.
Shea McClellin started his career in the NFL as a 4-3 left side defensive end playing opposite Julius Peppers, but was also viewed as a potential Brian Urlacher replacement. He showed flashes of becoming a solid defensive end his first few years in the league, but was eventually moved to linebacker, where he seemed to find a home for himself.
After his contract expired with the Bears, the New England Patriots decided to bring him aboard to help with their linebacker depth. He only ended up starting four games for them in 2016, but made some memorable plays to help the Patriots become the Super Bowl champions.
Unfortunately, the 2017 season wasn't very kind to him. His entire year was wiped out due to a concussion, which probably had a lot to do with why they recently released him.
This of course could be good news for the Dallas Cowboys. They currently need some depth at the linebacker position and Shea McClellin could provide that, if he's healthy. The healthy bit here is key, because he has had problems with concussions in the past.
If McClellin is indeed healthy, he could bring a versatile skill set to the Cowboys defense. His best spot is probably at strong side LB (SAM), but I think he could play middle linebacker (MIKE) as well. He also could provide depth at defensive end, the position he played to start his NFL career.
With the LB depth a concern, Shea McClellin makes quite a bit of sense for the Dallas Cowboys. Of course, his past history with concussions is a red flag, but it also drives down his asking price. I think he would definitely fall into that "bargain shopping" mentality the Cowboys have been using these last few offseasons.
He probably wouldn't be viewed as a very important signing, but you still need these types of players on your team in order to succeed in the NFL. Let's see if the Dallas Cowboys agree.
Do you think a Rod Marinelli and Shea McClellin reunion is in order?
Redskins Have Not Had Success With Former Cowboys
Now that he's signed with the Washington Redskins, cornerback Orlando Scandrick joins a lackluster list of former Cowboys players and coaches who have gone from Dallas to its historic rival. The history of these moves is ugly for Washington, going back over 40 years, and can't have their fans too excited anytime they sign an ex-Cowboy.
The most recent example was just last year with defensive tackle Terrell McClain. After a strong season as a 15-game starter in Dallas, McClain got a four-year, $21 million deal to join the Redskins. He missed four games with injuries and was only credited with two starts; hardly what the team wanted given the money they paid.
Before him it was Jason Hatcher, whose 11-sack season for the Cowboys in 2013 got him a four-year, $27.5 million deal from Washington. Hatcher would battle knee injuries for two season, getting only 7.5 sacks from 2014-2015. His early retirement in 2016 brought an abrupt end to a disappointing tenure.
Continuing the legacy of defensive linemen was Stephen Bowen, who Washington paid a shocking amount of money ($27.5 million over five years) to in 2011 to pick up in free agency. Bowen had a great first year for the Redskins with six sacks and 16 starts, but injuries would soon cost him 14 games from 2013-2014. He was eventually released after only one standout season in four with the team.
Going back even further, DT Brandon Noble joined Washington in 2003 after being a full-time starter for Dallas for over two seasons. He would miss all of 2003 with a knee injury, have an unimpressive year in 2004, and then missed all of 2005 with more health issues. He retired after being released by the Redskins in 2006.
Orlando Scandrick won't be the first cornerback to go from Dallas to Washington, or the best. At age 32, Deion Sanders was released in 2000 by the Cowboys and then got a huge seven-year, $56 million deal from the Redskins. This came less than a year after Daniel Snyder bought the franchise and was desperate to get them relevant again.
The Sanders move backfired horribly. Even after a solid season by his lofty standards, Primetime was disgruntled with both the coaching staff and his increasing struggles as an aging player. He suddenly retired after just one season of the seven-year contract.
Washington also tried to tap into the Cowboys' glory days when they signed receiver Alvin Harper in 1997. Harper had left Dallas in 1995 and spent two years with Tampa Bay, but had not carried over the same success he enjoyed playing in the Dallas offense.
The Redskins hoped that reuniting him with Norv Turner, who had been Harper's offensive coordinator and was now their head coach, would help Alvin get back to form. But between ongoing injuries and the absence of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and Emmitt Smith as teammates, Alvin Harper was never the same guy as when he won two Super Bowls in Dallas.
The failed poaching attempts go back many more decades, another one being running back Calvin Hill. The fourth-leading rusher in Cowboys history and a four-time Pro Bowler while in Dallas, Hill joined Washington in 1976. He served as a backup only, averaging only 3.8 yards-per-carry as he played behind the likes of Mike Thomas and John Riggins.
The bad history doesn't stop with players. The aforementioned Norv Turner, who was one of the hottest assistant coaches in history after the Cowboys first two Super Bowl wins in the 90s, was hired as the Redskins' head coach in 1994.
Turner's run started with a whimper, drafting quarterback Heath Shuler third overall in that first year. Shuler would go down as one of the biggest QB busts in NFL history
Norv's Redskins never seemed to recover from that blunder. He only had two winning seasons and one playoff appearance from 1994-1999, and was fired midway through the 2000 season.
Far more recently, Cowboys offensive line coach Bill Callahan left the team in 2015 and took the same job in Washington. He didn't get to bring the offensive line or DeMarco Murray with him, though. As such, the Redskins have remained one of the league's worst rushing teams for the last three seasons. They fell to a new low of 28th in the NFL in 2017.
~ ~ ~
Of course, none of this means that Orlando Scandrick won't have success in Washington. But with the Redskins generally the most mismanaged team in the NFC East, all of the Dallas players and coaches who've gone there have not walked into good situations. For all that Cowboys fans love to complain about Jerry Jones, he handles the owner and GM roles better than any pair Washington's had in almost 30 years.
Given the nature of the rivalries, we naturally can't wish success for Scandrick or anyone else who leaves Dallas for a division opponent. With the track record we just discussed for Washington, it's not something I'll be losing any sleep over.
Xavier Woods, the Real Reason Cowboys Didn’t Pursue Tyrann Mathieu?
It's not uncommon for Dallas Cowboys fans to zero in on certain free agents in hopes that they will bring their talents to America's Team. In fact, just about any "big name" player to hit the open market is often linked to the Cowboys in some way or another. That was the case when the Arizona Cardinals decided to move on from Tyrann Mathieu.
Once Tyrann Mathieu became available, Cowboys fans immediately wanted to see him with a star on his helmet. But, despite the fans petitioning, the Cowboys brass seemed to show almost zero interest in the former Cardinal.
The decision to not pursue Tyrann Mathieu certainly didn't sit well with a lot of Cowboys Nation, but I think it was the right decision.
Despite Mathieu's perceived talents and youth (he's just 25), the Cowboys weren't interested in paying the price to bring him to Dallas, especially since they already have a similar player on their roster.
It may sound crazy, but I think the real reason the Dallas Cowboys didn't show much interest in Tyrann Mathieu is because of Xavier Woods.
I honestly believe Xavier Woods and Tyrann Mathieu have a similar skill set. Both players are little undersized to be a full-time safety in the NFL, but each of them have the versatility to play several different roles in the secondary.
Mathieu may have been listed as a safety on the Arizona Cardinals roster, and now the Houston Texans, but the truth is he played mostly out of the nickel/slot in his professional and collegiate career. That is where he is at his best, and the same can be said about Xavier Woods.
As a rookie, Xavier Woods showed his versatility with the Dallas Cowboys by playing a variety of different roles in the secondary. His versatility was one of the reasons the Cowboys decided to trade up in last year's draft to acquire his services.
His name might not carry the same kind of weight as Tyrann Mathieu right now around the league or amongst NFL fans, but I don't think Xavier Woods is that much of a drop off talent wise.
Personally, I believe Mathieu is starting to decline a little as a player. I think injuries are starting to take a toll on his play, although it may be minimal. I actually prefer Xavier Woods' upside, especially when you take into account the difference in salaries between the two.
Surprisingly enough, Xavier Woods might just have been more productive in 2017 then Mathieu. Woods started just four games and finished the season with 42 tackles, three passes defensed, and one interception. Mathieu on the other hand started all 16 games and accumulated 78 tackles, one quarterback sack, one forced fumble, and two interceptions.
As you can see, Xavier Woods was almost just as productive as Mathieu in nearly a third of the playing time. What's even more impressive about this is that Woods accomplish this as a rookie.
Of course, all of this is speculation, but I for one am not all that upset the Dallas Cowboys missed out on Tyrann Mathieu. I'm willing to bet on Xavier Woods being able to do everything Mathieu can and at a fraction of the cost.
Were the Cowboys right not to pursue Tyrann Mathieu?
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