Dallas Cowboys: Brett Favre

Before Brady-Manning, Cowboys QBs had rivals

January, 13, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will meet for the 15th time in their careers on Sunday when the New England Patriots play the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game.

It will be their fourth playoff, which are the most postseason matchups between quarterbacks since 1950, according to Elias.

Maybe there will be some Brady-Manning (or Manning-Brady) fatigue this week, but the matchup got me thinking about the Dallas Cowboys.

Roger Staubach had Terry Bradshaw. Troy Aikman had Steve Young and Brett Favre.

In the early 1970s, the Cowboys knocked out John Brodie’s San Francisco 49ers three straight years, but Staubach (1971) started just one game and Craig Morton started two (1970, ’72). Staubach eliminated the Los Angeles Rams in 1973, ’75 and 76 but he faced three different quarterbacks in John Hadl, Ron Jaworski and Pat Haden.

That’s why Bradshaw is the pick.

Was there a better rivalry in the NFL than the Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers? They were the magical teams of the 1970s and the Steelers can lay claim to the team of the decade because of their wins in Super Bowl X and Super Bowl XIII. That last loss still stings members of the 1978 Cowboys.

Staubach and Bradshaw met only twice in the regular season with the Steelers winning those matchups, too.

Aikman had a 4-3 record against Young in the 1990s. The Cowboys went through the Niners in back to back NFC Championship Games in 1992 and ’93 on their way to Super Bowl wins against the Buffalo Bills.

Young broke through in 1994 by beating the Cowboys in the NFC title game to win his only Super Bowl as a starter.

They played in four regular-season games against each other with the quarterbacks splitting the meetings.

In order to get to the 1993 and ’94 NFC Championship Games, the Cowboys had to go through the Green Bay Packers, beating Favre twice in the divisional round. Aikman beat Favre in the NFC title game in 1995.

Aikman had a 6-1 record against Favre in head-to-head meetings. The only loss in the series came in the only meeting at Lambeau Field on Nov. 23, 1997, a 45-17 decision.

Cowboys leaned on backup QBs before

December, 26, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – With the season on the line, the Dallas Cowboys most likely will have to rely on backup QB Kyle Orton to deliver a victory Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles because starter Tony Romo is battling an injured back.

It won't be the first time the Cowboys have needed a backup up to deliver in the Jerry Jones era.

[+] EnlargeKyle Orton
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Cowboys may look to backup Kyle Orton to keep their postseason hopes alive.
In 1990, the Cowboys faced a win-and-in scenario without Troy Aikman because of a knee injury and turned to Babe Laufenberg against the Atlanta Falcons.

The Cowboys lost 26-7. Laufenberg completed 10 of 24 passes for 129 yards with two interceptions, including one that was returned by Deion Sanders 61 yards for a touchdown. Laufenberg was also sacked three times in his first start of the season.

"It still bothers you," said Laufenberg, who is the sports director at KTVT in Dallas and in his 21st year as the color analyst for the Cowboys radio network. "This time of season, it's like the death of your mother when the anniversary comes up. Seriously. It still bothers you. Now that was my last game, too, as it turned out."

If Romo is unable to play, Orton will make his first start for Dallas and the 70th of his career. Orton is 35-34 as a starter but has not started a game since the 2011 season finale with the Kansas City Chiefs. He is in his second season with the Cowboys.

While Laufenberg's memories are not positive, the Cowboys have had backups deliver for them in big moments before.

In 1991, the season after Laufenberg's start, Steve Beuerlein replaced an injured Aikman and won his four regular-season starts as the Cowboys finished 11-5 and made the playoffs for the first time since 1985. He also helped the Cowboys win their first road playoff game since 1980 when they beat the Chicago Bears in the wild-card round.

In the regular-season game in which Aikman hurt his knee, Beuerlein connected on a touchdown pass to Michael Irvin in the fourth quarter, and Dallas beat the then-undefeated Washington Redskins 24-21. He finished the regular season with five touchdown passes and two interceptions.

What changed for the Cowboys in Aikman's absence was the increased workload of RB Emmitt Smith. He carried the ball at least 25 times in each of Beuerlein's starts and had at least 109 rushing yards in three of the games. The defense also played its best, allowing more than 14 points just once in Beuerlein's four starts.

In 1993, the Cleveland Browns cut QB Bernie Kosar for "diminishing skills." The Cowboys, led by coach Jimmy Johnson, signed Kosar two days later – and four days later he delivered a 20-15 Dallas win against the Phoenix Cardinals. With Aikman out (hamstring) and the offense sluggish under backup Jason Garrett, Johnson turned to Kosar. Kosar completed 13 of 21 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown.

A week later, he made his only Cowboys start, a 27-14 loss to the Falcons. He completed 22 of 39 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns.

The Cowboys would lose only one more game that season – the famous ice game on Thanksgiving against the Miami Dolphins – before winning Super Bowl XXVIII.

Garrett had his moment in the sun in the Thanksgiving game in 1994. With Aikman and Rodney Peete out, Garrett outdueled Brett Favre, throwing for 311 yards and two touchdowns as the Cowboys put up 36 second-half points to beat the Green Bay Packers 42-31.

While that game is often remembered, Garrett also had a 6-3 record as a starter with the Cowboys.

"Shoot, you live for that," Laufenberg said. "I just hate [hearing], ‘Ah, backup quarterback is the best job in the world.' Ask them. Ask Jason. All you want to do is play."

Storied pasts loom over Cowboys, Packers

December, 13, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- As the Cowboys walk to the team meeting room every day, they are met with pictures of Dallas' five Super Bowl winners. Each collage has a team photo and pictures of smiling players, coaches and executives from winning NFL championships.

At Lambeau Field, the photos from the great moments in Packers history line the wall from the tunnel to the locker room. When the stadium was renovated years ago, they took a row of old bricks and moved it to the new tunnel so players can say they walk over the same ground as the greats who played at Lambeau Field.

With a loss Sunday, though, either team will need even more help to just make the postseason.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo and Aaron Rodgers
AP Photo/David StlukaCowboys QB Tony Romo, right, and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers know the burden that comes with playing for franchises trying to recapture past glory.
Like the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers, the Cowboys are constantly chasing ghosts from past teams.

The Packers and Cowboys have combined for 18 NFL championships (Green Bay 13, Dallas five) and nine Super Bowls (Green Bay four, Dallas five). They produced one of the NFL’s iconic games -- the Ice Bowl -- in the 1967 NFC Championship. They were coached by legends in Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi. They rekindled the rivalry in the 1990s, meeting in the playoffs from 1993 to 1995.

The current teams carry something of a burden with them because of the successful pasts.

“We always look at it as a sense of pride and energy to tap into,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. “We think it’s very important to have that and recognize it and honor it, so I always refer to it as there’s pride in the bricks of Lambeau Field and it’s something we need to tap into. We talk to our current team about it and how important it is to win and represent the Green Bay Packers the right way.”

Jason Garrett does not talk about the expectations laid out from the likes of Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly, Tony Dorsett, Randy White, Mel Renfro, Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. He talks about the standard those players and teams set.

“You want to be in a place where there’s a high standard for achievement,” Garrett said. “I think that’s a good thing. That brings the best out in people. What we try to do each and every day is be our best. Come to work as players and coaches and put our best foot forward and get ready for our challenges each week and again, embrace the past. That’s a good thing. ... That drives us. That’s part of what drives us to achieve, really, each and every day, and certainly each season.”

Tony Romo is constantly measured against Staubach and Aikman. Aaron Rodgers is measured against Bart Starr and Brett Favre, but he has the Super Bowl ring that Romo is still looking for, having beaten the Steelers at AT&T Stadium in Super Bowl XLV.

Rodgers has 23 teammates on the roster with a Super Bowl ring.

Romo hopes one day to have his own, so he and his teammates can have their pictures on the wall holding the Lombardi Trophy.

“You want to be a part of a storied franchise,” Romo said. “It just makes it important. You want a challenge. You want it to matter, and you want it to be important. That’s what’s great about this organization and great about our fans.”

Brett Favre praises Tony Romo

April, 12, 2013
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At the annual SMU athletic forum luncheon on Friday, retired quarterback Brett Favre praised Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Favre is 1-1 lifetime against Romo, losing to him when he played for the Packers and winning against Romo in a playoff game while he with the Vikings.

Romo, who was raised in Wisconsin and grew up a fan of Favre, has been under fire in recent years for his lack of success in the playoffs. Romo is 1-3 in the playoffs and there was some local and national criticism over the six-year, $108 million contract extension he signed last week.

Favre believes the criticism is unfair.

"It’s the ultimate team sport," Favre said according to the Dallas Morning News. "I think it’s misleading to say that a quarterback has wins and losses and say he was a part of one playoff victory. I think there are a lot of factors that go into the success of not only Tony Romo but any player. Just what little bit I’ve watched the last couple of years, it seems like they were a little bit in disarray offensively. I thought he did a good job, from what I saw, of managing and making plays."

It's the making plays part, while under duress, that excites Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones, who wants the offense to utilize Romo's talents.

"Does that get you in trouble sometimes when you try to do too much? Sure it does," Favre said. "But I think I’d rather have a guy who’s willing to take those chances."

Tony Romo's deal 15th for $100 million

April, 1, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – Tony Romo's seven-year, $119.5 million deal is the 15th deal worth at least $100 million in NFL history and the second in as many months with Baltimore’s Joe Flacco signing a six-year, $120.6 million deal in February.

How much of the $119.5 million will Romo see? At least $55 million, but that might be up for debate. The final $7.5 million of the guaranteed money comes on the third day of the 2015 league year. While unlikely, the Cowboys could move on from Romo before then if they choose.

After the Flacco deal, ESPN Stats & Information put together a chart of how much estimated money the players that had the first 13 $100 million deals earned. Of the previous 13 $100 million deals Brett Favre earned the most at $54.6 million. Five players are still in the midst of their contracts.

Observations from the scouting combine

February, 26, 2013
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After reading Todd Archer's fine work from Indianapolis the last few days, here are some thoughts on what was said regarding the Dallas Cowboys:

PODCAST
Herm Edwards joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the NFL combine and Cowboys' offseason. Edwards says Rod Marinelli is the key to the defense this season, not Monte Kiffin. He also talks about what it would be like to work for Jerry Jones.

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1. Stephen Jones says there's a possibility of moving Doug Free to one of the guard spots. Why? Free seems more poised to play tackle and didn't play well at that position in 2012. It might be more of the Cowboys trying to keep Free on the roster while sliding Jermey Parnell into the starting right tackle spot. However, what was the point of singing Nate Livings and Mackenzey Bernardeau to contracts worth $30 million last spring if you're giving up on them now? I didn't think Livings played bad, and Bernadeau improved as the season progressed. The Cowboys, however, do have a propensity to hold on to players too long. (Terrell Owens, Marion Barber, Flozell Adams and Marc Colombo are just of the names.) If Free didn't play well in 2012 and Parnell seems to have a better future, then move on from Free.

2. Jerry Jones wants the credit if and when the Cowboys turn things around and reach the Super Bowl. Jones sounds like a man frustrated with the criticism he's taken over the years and dumbfounded about why the organization can't move forward. It seemed the Cowboys were moving in a positive direction under Bill Parcells, but after that 2006 playoff loss to Seattle the Cowboys' window for whatever reason started to close. The next season, the Cowboys reached the playoffs as the No. 1 seed only to get bounced out of the postseason by the New York Giants. From there the Cowboys have been mediocre. You can say the 2009 season was a positive, but Tony Romo couldn't outplay an aging Brett Favre on the road in the divisional round of the playoffs in Minnesota. It seems the window on this current Cowboys team has closed and maybe Jones is trying to open it again, but he's having trouble doing it.

3. Jerry Jones said he doesn't believe he's in the same financial ballpark as Anthony Spencer. The team is more than $20 million over the salary cap and, yes, they can structure things to pay Spencer, but do they believe Spencer is worth $10-12 million per year on average? I think not. The Cowboys' front office has done nothing but praise Spencer's work of the last year. The team doesn't love him enough to pay him.

4. It was good to hear Stephen Jones talk about adding a running back in the draft or through free agency. Reggie Bush has been mentioned, but he may not come cheap. Mel Kiper Jr. has given South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore a third-round grade. Maybe that's an option. The Cowboys can't go into this draft thinking they should draft a backup to DeMarco Murray. The Cowboys have to enter this drafting selecting people who can become starters or want to become starters. If Lattimore is there in Round 2? Get him. Round 3? Get him.

5. The safety position, we thought, was solidified last season with Barry Church and Gerald Sensabaugh. The current salary cap situation has made things less stable. Sensabaugh's $3 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed if he's on the roster March 12, the start of the league year. If Sensabaugh is released the Cowboys save $1.4 million. If that happens, the Cowboys better draft a safety early. (Please don't mention a veteran because the Cowboys have been there and done that.) Matt Johnson didn't play a lick last season because of hamstring injuries, but the Cowboys believe he's got playmaking ability and were impressed by him during the brief time he practiced. Johnson better make some plays next season after the Cowboys kept him on the active roster for all of 2012.

Ryan Cook talks Tony Romo, Brett Favre

October, 3, 2012
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IRVING, Texas -- There is no other quarterback Tony Romo has been compared to more than Brett Favre since becoming the Cowboys’ starter.

Ryan Cook was a teammate of Favre’s in Minnesota for two seasons and has been the Cowboys center for all but three snaps so far.

“Just because they’re both considered ‘gunslingers,’ I guess is the loose term on that, they do compare in some aspects,” Cook said. “But it’s a risk/reward business and they go out there and take risks and sometimes you benefit from it and sometimes they bite you.”

Like Favre, Cook did not see Romo go into a shell as the interceptions piled up Monday against Chicago.

“You can’t back down from it,” Cook said. “You make a mistake and you’ve got to move forward. Tony was out there trying to do the best job he could to score points. We were behind so you’ve got to score points. You can’t pull off at point and coast.”

Cook did not practice Wednesday because of a sore hamstring but said he would be fine for practice when the team returns to work Monday. He doesn’t expect to see a far different Romo.

“He’s the ultimate competitor,” Cook said. “He’ll get back on the horse. I don’t think anybody is worried.”

Ranking Tony Romo's best performances

September, 8, 2012
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I’ll respectfully disagree with the take from NBC’s Cris Collinsworth that Tony Romo played the best game of his career Wednesday night.

In fact, it arguably wasn’t the best game Romo has played against the Giants in the last 10 months.

Here’s one man’s opinion of the five most impressive performances of Romo’s career:

PODCAST
Jean-Jacques Taylor, Tim MacMahon and Ted Emrich hold off on Kevin Ogletree's Ring of Honor induction, debate if the season opener was Tony Romo's best performance, break down the negatives for the Cowboys after Week 1 and discuss what it would take for Jerry Jones to get credit.

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1. Cowboys 27, 49ers 24 (Sept. 18, 2011): It’s impressive any time a quarterback leads a late rally from a double-digit deficit to defeat one of the league’s top defensive teams. It’s especially amazing when that quarterback does so after breaking a couple of ribs and puncturing his lungs early in that game. That was the case at Candlestick Park with Romo, who completed 12 of 15 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter and overtime, essentially sealing the win by hitting reality show-winning receiver Jesse Holley for a 77-yard gain. Romo, who had been ripped all week after committing two late turnovers in a season-opening loss to the New York Jets, finished the game with 345 yards and two touchdowns on 20-of-33 passing.

2. Cowboys 37, Packers 27 (Nov. 29, 2007): Want high stakes? The NFC’s top seed was on the line, and Romo’s boyhood idol Brett Favre was on the opposing sideline. Romo responded with 309 yards and four touchdowns on 19-of-30 passing. His lone interception could have been another score, but Terrell Owens bobbled the ball in the end zone to allow Green Bay’s Al Harris to get his hands on it. Romo also put the ball on the money twice to Miles Austin on deep balls, drawing 42- and 40-yard pass interference penalties. This was a masterful performance in a game with major playoff implications.

3. Giants 37, Cowboys 34 (Dec. 11, 2011): The Cowboys didn’t win, but you’d have to have a football IQ lower than Romo’s jersey number to blame this loss on him. In fact, his 141.3 passer rating in this game was the highest in NFL history by any quarterback who threw for at least 300 yards in a loss. Romo completed 21 of 31 passes for 321 yards and four touchdowns. His stats would have been even more impressive -- and the Cowboys would have won the game -- if Austin didn’t lose a deep ball in the lights on what should have been a dagger touchdown.

4. Cowboys 37, Falcons 21 (Oct. 25, 2009): Austin hogged the headlines, following up his franchise-record 250-yard performance in his first start the previous week by torching Atlanta for 171 yards and two scores on six catches. Of course, Romo had a lot to do with that. No. 9 was simply sensational after a slow start. He didn’t have a completion in the first quarter, scrambling for the Cowboys’ lone first down in the opening 15 minutes, but Romo finished with 311 yards and three TDs on 21-of-29 passing. His 5-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Crayton on the final snap of the first half was Romo at his finest. He avoided a sack by spinning away from three Falcons before firing a strike to a wide-open Crayton in the end zone, giving the Cowboys a double-digit lead

5. Cowboys 24, Giants 17 (Sept. 5, 2012): Romo had to overcome an awful performance by the offensive line to beat the defending Super Bowl champions on the road. He threw for 307 yards and three touchdowns on 22-of-29 passing despite being pressured by Jason Pierre-Paul and Co. all night. Most quarterbacks wouldn’t have been able to get rid of the ball on his two touchdowns to Kevin Ogletree. Romo used his mobility to make the biggest plays in what could be a statement game at the site where Dallas’ 2011 season died.

Brett Favre praises Tony Romo

June, 27, 2012
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IRVING, Texas -- Because Tony Romo grew up in Wisconsin the natural assumption that his favorite quarterback growing up was Brett Favre. In reality it was John Elway. But Favre, the former Green Bay Packer, was near the top of Romo’s list.

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Former Cowboys receiver Patrick Crayton reacts to Brett Favre's comments on Tony Romo.

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It seems Favre has taken a liking to Romo, too. In an interview with NFL Network, Favre went so far as to call Romo “underrated,” because of how much he's expected to do.

“Romo is probably more like me than any of those guys,” Favre told Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, who has been a Romo critic. “Way too much is cast upon him -- good, bad. It’s Dallas and much is expected. He’s carried those guys.

"But I’m watching last year -- and I like Tony, I like the way he plays, at times he’s underrated -- but I’m watching and right before the snap, he’s telling guys (to get into position and they don’t know what they’re doing.) How in the world are you going to have a positive play when the ball is coming and you’re telling a guy (to get into position)? And then he’ll make something out of nothing. That’s part of being a great quarterback is sometimes it’s not going to go. As a coach, they would love to sit there and say, ‘It’s going to be five steps, you’re going to hitch up into a perfect pocket, you’re going to look at No. 1 -- no, you’re going to go to No. 2 -- no...’ It doesn’t work that way.”

Romo has carried the same “gunslinger” tag Favre had throughout much of his career, a mark that comes just as much for the plays made as the ones forced. In his last two full seasons (2009, ’11), Romo has 57 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions.

Coach: Other sports help Tony Romo

May, 7, 2012
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IRVING, Texas – When news broke of Terrell Suggs’ torn Achilles last week while playing basketball, many Cowboys fans wondered whether Tony Romo should stop hitting the court in the offseason, too.

Suggs later said the injury occurred during a conditioning test.

“It’s always a concern,” quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson said of a possible non-football injury, “but that can happen out here doing offseason conditioning. It’s definitely a concern, but it’s kind of a personal choice they make.”

Romo turned 32 in April and began his workouts a month or so before the official offseason program began.

“Tony takes great care of himself with his conditioning and his off-football sports, soccer and basketball, I think help him on the football field,” Wilson said.

Wilson said Romo has thrown the ball “great” early in the offseason program.

“He’s really locked in and taken even another step in the leadership role in the weight room and with the guys and getting out there and working with the receivers throwing,” Wilson said. “I think he looks great .”

Romo is signed through next season. He is coming off what the coaches called his best season with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Across the league quarterbacks have been playing better as they get older, like New England’s Tom Brady and even Brett Favre before he finally decided to retire.

“I’ve seen some 32-year-olds look 25 and vice versa, some 25-year-olds look 32,” Wilson said. “If you take care of yourself there’s no reason he shouldn’t be productive for a lot more years.”

Four ex-Cowboys part of Super Bowl XLVI

January, 30, 2012
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IRVING, Texas -- For the 16th straight year the Dallas Cowboys will be represented at the Super Bowl by former players.

Four ex-Cowboys will be on the sidelines Sunday when New England plays the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. Defensive back Nate Jones and fullback Lousaka Polite play for the Patriots, while defensive tackle Chris Canty and wide receiver Isaiah Stanback are on the Giants.

Canty starts for the Giants, while Jones and Polite are backups for the Patriots. Stanback is on the Giants’ practice squad.

Canty was a fourth-round pick by the Cowboys in 2005. Jones was a seventh-rounder in 2004 in the same round that produced Patrick Crayton and Jacques Reeves, which is a great job by the scouting department to have three keepers that late. Stanback was a fourth-round pick in 2007 but his conversion from college quarterback to wide receiver was slowed by a foot injury.

The four had some memorable moments:

Canty seemed to play his best against the Giants, which could have led to his six-year, $42 million deal he signed with New York in 2008, but his most memorable moment as a Cowboy came in 2007 when he blocked a 48-yard field goal attempt by Minnesota and saw safety Patrick Watkins return it for a touchdown. The Cowboys won, 24-14.

Jones’ most memorable moment came in 2007 as well when the Cowboys all-but clinched homefield advantage in the NFC. He can also be credited for hastening the Aaron Rodgers’ Era in Green Bay because he knocked Brett Favre out of the Nov. 29 meeting by hitting the quarterback’s arm on a blitz off the edge. Rodgers played well in Favre’s absence and became the Packers’ starter the next year.

Polite joined the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2004. I guess his most memorable moment came in 2006 when Julius Jones, Marion Barber and Tyson Thompson scored rushing touchdowns in a 45-14 win at Tennessee. Others might remember that as Vince Young’s first career start. Polite’s better moments came when he followed Bill Parcells’ & Co. to Miami.

Stanback’s moment was a 58-yard kickoff return against Seattle in 2008. Unfortunately the Cowboys did not score on that drive and he caught all of two passes before he was released before the 2009 season began.

Power Rankings: Top 10 NFL owners

May, 10, 2011
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NFL Power RankingsESPN.com IllustrationThe Rooney family received only first- and second-place votes from our panelists.
There wasn't a whole lot of room for debate at the top.

ESPN.com took its positional Power Rankings series off the field and into the boardroom to rate the owners. None of them are popular fellows these days, but for the purposes of this project, nobody was more respected than the Rooney family.

The Pittsburgh Steelers' owners were listed first or second on all eight of the panelists' ballots.

By any definition, Dan Rooney and Art Rooney II qualify as powerful.

They're winners. The Steelers have played in eight Super Bowls and won six of them with three head coaches. The family's success has spanned such a long time that Dan and the late Art Rooney Sr. were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame 36 years apart.

They're transcendent. President Barack Obama selected Steelers chairman Dan Rooney as the U.S. ambassador to Ireland.

They're influential. Dan Rooney was behind the so-called "Rooney Rule," which changed sidelines dramatically by stimulating minority hires. When it comes to the lockout, Rooney is a prominent voice of reason and could help broker the eventual deal.

"The Steelers selection is a no-brainer," ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton said. "The Steelers under the Rooneys have been the model of franchise ownership in sports. They are successful, consistent and supportive.

"They don't undergo the constant changes of other franchises. Plus, the family has been so instrumental in doing things that help advance the league, sometimes at the expense of their own franchise. It's no secret that two Rooneys are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame."

Clayton, AFC North blogger James Walker, AFC West blogger Bill Williamson and NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas each had the Rooneys atop his ballot.

"The Rooney family is the perfect combination of tradition, consistency and success," Walker said, echoing Clayton's thoughts almost verbatim. "The easiest thing to point out is they've had the most Super Bowl wins and fewest head coaches since 1969. But they also set trends off the field with things like the Rooney Rule. They're very well respected, and there's a special sense of pride about the Steelers from players and fans that you don't see in many places. It starts at the top."

But the Rooneys were not unanimous choices in our ownership Power Rankings.

What about the power of the people?

The Green Bay Packers' ownership received three of the four remaining first-place votes. NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert, NFC West blogger Mike Sando and I all listed the Packers first because of their unique kind of power. Rules governing the other 31 franchises don't apply to them.

The Packers are the only publicly owned franchise. Green Bay Packers Inc. is a nonprofit organization formed in 1922. About 112,000 stockholders own roughly 4.75 million shares of the team. A seven-member executive board oversees the team on behalf of the stockholders.

Packers fans never will have to worry about the team being sold or moving away. The Packers are the only franchise that must open its books.

Oh, yeah. They also just won their NFL-record 13th championship.

Seifert explained why the Packers are special.

"My criteria for this category was twofold," Seifert said. "Do the owners fund the team's operations well? And do they operate the team well?

"I think the Packers' arrangement is currently doing both and has none of the baggage that goes along with single-family ownership. Shareholders don't take dividends, so no one is driven by individual profit. All profits go back into the franchise. In my experience, no expenses are spared in operating the team. People might note that general manager Ted Thompson doesn't sign many free agents, but that's a football decision. He's spent plenty on retaining the Packers' own free agents.

"The executive committee has hired a competent president in Mark Murphy, and after a bumpy start on the Brett Favre departure, Murphy has facilitated excellent work from the GM and coach he inherited.

"Finally, the Packers' ownership arrangement requires Murphy, Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy to be more accountable to 112,000 fans than any other NFL official is to his fan base. Shareholders can't make operating decisions, but they have the right to question decisions, to know how money is being spent and to get straight(er) answers than fans of any other NFL team."

Clayton, however, wasn't impressed. He omitted the Packers from his ballot, ensuring they didn't finish second in the Power Rankings despite their three first-place votes.

One gets the impression that if Clayton were to slot all 32 ownerships, he would jot the Packers last.

"I couldn't vote for the Packers because it is a community ownership, not a normal ownership," Clayton said. "It's not as though one owner makes the decisions and has to stand up for the praise or criticism. Assigned the chance to vote for ownership, I felt more comfortable voting for individual owners or family owners."

[+] EnlargeDan Rooney
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesDan Rooney has been one of the most influential owners in the NFL.
As a result, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was second overall. Kraft hired Bill Belichick as head coach and has stayed out of the way of football operations. The Patriots have won three Super Bowls in the past decade and went to a fourth. Forbes estimated the Patriots are the third-most-valuable NFL franchise and the world's 10th-biggest sports brand.

AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky listed Kraft above all. Kuharsky had the Rooneys second and the Packers third.

Kuharsky had the most efficient Power Rankings ballot. He was the lone panelist to vote for all of the owners who finished in the top 10.

"Robert Kraft versus the Rooneys is a close call," Kuharsky said. "I went Kraft because I feel he and his team have done more lately. In many ways, the Patriots -- not the Steelers -- are the standard-setters for the league. And while I prefer the way Heinz Field is in the middle of Pittsburgh, that development around Gillette Stadium has to be the envy of a lot of owners."

New York Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch came in fourth, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie was fifth and Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti was sixth.

From there, everybody else on the Power Rankings top 10 was omitted from at least one ballot.

Eclectic Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who was able to help land a Super Bowl in a nontraditional locale, came in seventh. Irsay rated no higher than sixth on any ballot, but he didn't make Williamson's top 10.

"I know it sticks out because I was the only one not to rank him, but if he was in the top three, I'd re-evaluate my reasoning," Williamson said. "But I can live with not voting for the No. 7 finisher. To be frank, I never considered Irsay. I considered 14 ownerships in all. Other than his random tweets, Irsay doesn't stick out to me, good or bad."

When it came to voting, money didn't necessarily equal power for some panelists.

I ranked Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones third, higher than any other voter. Sando and Yasinskas didn't rate Jones at all. Jones ended up eighth.

To me, you can't argue with his money or his presence. Forbes ranked the Cowboys the world's fourth-greatest sports brand behind only the New York Yankees, Manchester United and Real Madrid. Their estimated brand value was $128 million more than the NFL average and $15 million more than the Eagles and Giants combined.

Forbes estimated the Cowboys franchise was worth $1.8 billion, nearly $300 million more than the next-closest NFL club, the Washington Redskins.

Jones also serves as general manager. That puts him in control of every business and personnel decision. Sando saw that as a drawback.

"Jerry Jones is more involved in football operations than an owner ideally would be," Sando said. "He has shown questionable judgment in hiring head coaches. His involvement in football operations had made those coaches' jobs tougher. Jones dispatched with Tom Landry harshly and later failed to sustain the success Jimmy Johnson orchestrated.

"Also on Jones' watch, the Cowboys have suffered through the practice-bubble catastrophe, a Super Bowl experience that produced poor reviews and a video purporting to show Jones' drunken antics in a bar. Jones also was part of the NFL Management Council Executive Committee when the league agreed to the ill-fated 2006 collective bargaining agreement. Overall, the team hasn't enjoyed enough success recently to say the ends justify the means."

Yasinskas contended that Jones simply is overrated these days.

"If Jerry Jones had continued the success he had with Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer back in the 1990s, he'd be at the top of my list," Yasinskas said. "But the fact is the Cowboys really haven't been all that relevant for a long time. Part of that is due to Jones.

"He's done some good things and the new stadium is fabulous, but he's been way too hands-on with that franchise and he's run through lots of good coaches and players without any real results."

Let us know what you think.

Power Rankings: Top 10 NFL quarterbacks

April, 26, 2011
4/26/11
4:10
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QB Power Rankings IllustrationESPN.com IllustrationNew England's Tom Brady received six of the eight first-place votes to edge out Peyton Manning.
ESPN.com’s NFL writers rank the top 10 quarterbacks in the league today.
Next week: Top 10 safeties.


Take eight football writers scattered from Seattle to Tampa and ask them to come up with a list of the top 10 quarterbacks in the National Football League.

Sounds easy enough, in theory. You take the golden gunslingers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, and let everyone else fall naturally into order after that. Well, it didn’t quite work out that simply in ESPN.com’s Power Rankings for quarterbacks.

Heck, we couldn’t even come up with a top 10. We’re going with a top 11 because Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Dallas’ Tony Romo tied for No. 10 with five points each in our voting system.

Even at the top, there was more disagreement than you might expect. Brady emerged as No. 1, but it wasn’t unanimous and, although Manning finished a strong second, two ballots had a man some consider the best quarterback ever at No. 3.

But let’s start analyzing the rankings by focusing on just Brady and Manning. Six voters put Brady at No. 1, but Paul Kuharsky and Mike Sando put Manning in the top spot. Let’s hear them out.

“Brady's fantastic, let's start with that,’’ said Kuharsky, who covers the AFC South, also known as “The Division Manning Built and Owns." “But no one is asked to do more or does more as a quarterback than Peyton Manning. He almost plays a different position. And while Brady's got three rings to Manning's one and is the reigning MVP, look at their touchdown and interception numbers in their last four playoff games. Manning's are better.’’

Sando has no horse in this race, because voters unanimously agreed the NFC West is the division that forgot quarterbacks, at least until Sam Bradford gets another season under his belt.

“Brady has the better stats over the last couple seasons, but the Colts would undoubtedly be far worse off than the Patriots if both teams had backups under center,’’ Sando said. “Once that was established, Brady's recent postseason struggles became a deciding factor. These quarterbacks have, to an extent, switched roles recently. Manning has won a championship more recently than Brady has won one. Brady has seven touchdowns, seven picks and one victory in his last four playoff games. Manning has seven touchdowns, two picks and two victories in his last four.’’

For rebuttal, let’s head up to the AFC East, to the man who covers Brady and the New England Patriots.

“I'm not sure why everybody needs to consider career achievements when filling out a Power Rankings ballot,’’ Tim Graham said. “Power Rankings are a snapshot of the moment and are expected to change regularly, not encompass years of work. But if the reason for selecting Manning ahead of Brady is recent playoff performances that go back a few years, then Ben Roethlisberger should be ahead of Manning with that logic. Roethlisberger has been to a pair of Super Bowls and won his second title more recently than Manning's only championship.’’

We’ll come to Roethlisberger in just a moment, but nobody put him ahead of Manning on his ballot. Kevin Seifert and I each put a quarterback ahead of Manning.

Seifert put Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers at No. 2.

“Mostly, I didn't think I could face NFC North blog readers if I voted any other way,’’ Seifert said. “Seriously, I think the big advantage Manning and Drew Brees have over Rodgers is time. They've been playing longer and therefore have mostly better career numbers and a bigger frame of reference for knowing how they will perform in the long term. But when you take out longevity, Rodgers is right there with them. All three have one Super Bowl victory. Rodgers has a higher career passer rating than any quarterback in the history of the NFL with qualified attempts, better than Manning and Brees and Brady for that matter. So to break the tie, I think you can look at what they did most recently. I think Rodgers had a better 2010 season than Manning or Brees, and that's how I would justify this order.’’

I put Brees at No. 2 and don’t really want to write a story in which I quote myself, so I’ll just say Brees and Manning each have one Super Bowl ring and Brees’ numbers over the last four years are just as good or better in most categories. Plus, Brees hasn’t spent most of his career surrounded by the likes of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Edgerrin James.

In the final analysis, Brees finished third and Rodgers fourth. Roethlisberger, who has two Super Bowl rings, came in at No. 5. San Diego’s Philip Rivers, who has zero Super Bowl rings and some gaudy statistics, is No. 6. Relatively speaking, the order from Brees to Rivers, the guy who took his place with the Chargers, was pretty clear-cut.

After that, we had some close calls, strong differences of opinion and one very big coincidence. At No. 7, we’ve got a tie between Philadelphia’s Michael Vick and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, who each finished with 26 points. For those who don’t see the irony in that, Vick was the face of Atlanta’s franchise for a long time and Ryan now holds that role.

Eli Manning of the New York Giants came in at No. 9, and Flacco and Romo tied for the final spot. Only three other quarterbacks received votes. They were Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman, who I think could be near the top of this list in another year or two, Houston’s Matt Schaub and Kansas City’s Matt Cassel.

On to some other notes about the Power Rankings.

Michael Vick
Michael DeHoog/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesOne recent year of success wasn't enough to put Eagles quarterback Michael Vick on John Clayton's ballot.
The Vick factor. Despite a hugely productive season last year, Vick was left off one very important ballot. John Clayton, the dean of all of us, didn’t have the Philadelphia quarterback on his ballot and was the only one of us who didn't.

“The only reason Michael Vick didn’t make my top 10 is because I, after an offseason of thinking, have Michael Vick as my No. 11 quarterback,’’ Clayton said. “That still makes him elite. I have 12 elite quarterbacks. Vick moved into the elite category with his performance last year, but it’s just one year. He can clearly move up the list this season, but he’s in the mix and knocking on the door of the top 10. A year ago, he wasn’t a consideration.’’

Fighting the Eli fight. Speaking of Clayton, let’s continue to ride that train as we discuss Eli Manning. Seifert, Sando, Graham and I didn’t even include Manning in our top 10, but he still made the list.

“I will continue to fight the argument Eli Manning is an elite quarterback,’’ Clayton said. “I moved him to No. 8 above Tony Romo, but if Romo had a full season last year, he might have been ahead of Eli. Remember that Carson Palmer, Brett Favre and Donovan McNabb dropped from my elite quarterback categories, which moved guys like Eli up in the mix. Eli has a Super Bowl ring. He’s a 4,000-yard quarterback. He wins.’’

No tiebreaking here. Speaking of Romo: Clayton and Sando each had him at No. 9. AFC North blogger James Walker had Romo at No. 10. That was good enough to get Romo five points and a tie with Flacco. One interesting note here: Flacco wasn’t on Walker’s ballot. I respect James for not doing the easy thing and being a "homer," although I’m sure some Baltimore fans might have different opinions.

"Joe Flacco is a good quarterback, but I don’t consider him an elite, top-10 quarterback just yet,’’ Walker said. “I need to see more consistency, especially in the playoffs and other big games against the Steelers. Flacco has a lot of natural ability, and I believe he’s ready to break through. But, in my book, Flacco needs to first prove it on the field in the biggest games to be elite.”

The final analysis. If you look at this list from a distance, you could say the Atlanta Falcons, San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots are the big winners. The Patriots, of course, have Brady, but they also drafted Cassel, whom they later traded to Kansas City. If you want to get really technical, the Chargers drafted Brees and Eli Manning and worked a draft-day trade with the Giants to end up with Rivers. If you count the few minutes Manning and Rivers were crossing paths, you could say the Chargers, at one time or another, had three guys on this list. You also could say the Falcons drafted Vick, Ryan and Schaub, who finished in a tie with Freeman for No. 12.

Cowboys to speak with Cam Newton today

February, 26, 2011
2/26/11
1:10
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The Cowboys are scheduled to conduct their interview with Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton today.

Cowboys officials say the talk with Newton is a case of doing their due diligence.

Dallas has the ninth pick of the first round and is expected to draft a defensive player. But speaking with Newton has raised all sorts of questions.

Jerry Jones wouldn't rule out drafting Newton but noted he's got no issues with the quarterback position, calling it outstanding. Of course, Tony Romo is coming off a broken left collarbone, but he has been cleared to throw passes.

The key for the Cowboys is thinking about the future.

A perfect example of this is the Green Bay Packers, who drafted Aaron Rodgers despite having Brett Favre at quarterback. Rodgers waited behind Favre for nearly three seasons before getting a chance to play.

Romo will be 33 when his contract ends in 2013.

The No. 2 quarterback, Jon Kitna, is 38 and on the last year of his deal.

Stephen McGee, No. 3 on the depth chart, started the regular season finale at Philadelphia and played the entire second half of the previous game at Arizona. The Cowboys like McGee's development, and how he plays in the preseason will determine just how much improvement he's made from 2010.

Drafting a quarterback at some point during the draft, whether its Newton or anyone else, is more about the future than anything the next two seasons.

Rodgers made most of '07 showing vs. Boys

February, 1, 2011
2/01/11
9:00
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DALLAS -- Before he became the Aaron Rodgers we know today, he was just a young backup hopeful in 2007 behind Brett Favre.

Then came that Thursday night game at Texas Stadium on Nov. 29, 2007 when Favre was knocked out of the game by Nate Jones with an elbow injury.

While the Packers lost, 37-27, and the Cowboys essentially sewed up homefield advantage in the playoffs, Rodgers completed 18 of 26 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown, looking infinitely better than Favre did before the injury.

Maybe that glimpse was what Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson needed to know he could move on from Favre.

“I think it was more important for my teammates,” Rodgers said. “I already felt that point, starting my third year I was starting to figure out the offense and had it down and I could play the way I was capable of playing but I still felt there was room for improvement. I think my teammates needed to see that I can make some plays on the field that I made that night.”

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