The Cowboys have had some of the game's greatest linebackers over the years. Picking the best four was no easy task. Especially when an all-time great is just starting to carve out his place in NFL history these past two seasons.
So, at least for now, here are the top four linebackers:
What Might Have Been
DeMarcus Ware's career with the Cowboys will forever be remembered as what could have been. In his nine seasons in Dallas, he recorded 117 sacks and 576 tackles to go along with 185 quarterback hits.
But what eluded him, along with his teammates, was a Super Bowl ring. The sad fact remains that Ware had to depart Dallas to finally collect his Super Bowl ring. He won Super Bowl 50 with the Denver Broncos at the end of the 2015 season.
There were three seasons that the Cowboys could have made the Super Bowl while Ware was on the roster. Each year they came up just a little short.
But when he was playing for the Cowboys you would be hard pressed to find a better linebacker in the team's history. He recorded 20 sacks during the 2008 season. During the 2006 campaign, his second in Dallas, he returned an interception (41 yards) and a fumble (69 yards) for a touchdown.
He will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this fall but has yet to make the Cowboys' Ring of Honor.
A Winner In Losing
Chuck Howley began his NFL career in Chicago in 1958. He injured his knee three games into the 1959 season and retired from football. In 1960 he was running a gas station back home in West Virginia.
But an appearance in an West Virginia alumni game sparked an interest in returning to the game. In 1961 the Bears traded him to Dallas for two 1963 draft picks. Neither of those picks were on the Bears' roster by the start of the 1964 campaign.
Howley went on to play 13 years for Dallas. He finished with 24 interceptions, returning two for scores, and 17 fumble recoveries, scoring once. In 1968 he had six picks. In 1971 he had five.
He would win a Super Bowl with the Cowboys in Super Bowl VI after earning the MVP award for Super Bowl V, a loss to the Colts. He remains the only player from a losing team to win that Super Bowl's MVP award.
In typical Howley fashion, he didn't want to accept the honor, since his team had lost the game. But it came with a brand-new car, which he wanted to give to his wife. So he accepted it for her sake.
He became the fourth Cowboy to be enshrined on the Ring of Honor in 1977 and will finally be inducted into the Hall of Fame in August.
Have Hat, Will Travel
Lee Roy Jordan's entire collegiate and pro football career had one thing in common: His coaches both wore iconic hats on the sideline. Jordan starred at Alabama under Coach Bear Bryant and his houndstooth hat before being drafted sixth overall by Dallas in 1963. His pro football coach becoming well known for donning his own iconic fedora hat while prowling the sidelines.
Over 14 seasons in Dallas, Jordan would collect 32 interceptions, returning three for touchdowns. He had six in each of the 1973 and 1975 seasons. He added 18 fumble recoveries and is unofficially credited with 19.5 sacks.
As the Cowboys middle linebacker for 11 of those seasons, he was the defensive quarterback. He was the heart of Dallas' Doomsday Defense that won Super Bowl VI.
In 1989 he became the seventh player added to the Ring of Honor but has not been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
On The Mountain, For Now
Ken Norton Jr. only spent six years on the Cowboys' roster before heading to the 49ers in free agency. But during his time in Dallas the Cowboys' defense dominated teams. Without Norton, would the Cowboys have those two Super Bowl wins over Buffalo? Likely not.
He recorded one interception, six fumble recoveries and 579 tackles in 79 games in Dallas. Solid numbers and a resume good enough for the fourth spot on our monument. For now.
Because in about a dozen years, assuming injury or free agency doesn't interfere, Micah Parsons is going to give our monument a facelift and Norton will be gone. Enjoy it while you can Ken.