It's summer time at the NFL. During the next few weeks, we here at NFL.com will unveil our Most Underrated and Overrated Players of All Time for all 32 teams and allow users to determine their choices as well.
The task force in features asked that I write the most overrated and underrated Dallas Cowboys of all time this week, and with lots of agonizing over some Capri Suns, the following list has come to pass. It was harder than evaluating all of the Redskins Draft classes, the last beast of a project these sweat-hounds asked me to do.
Oh, and speaking of coming to pass, I passed on some obvious guys to pick on, like Terrell Owens. I thought long and hard about guys you've heard of -- like Ken Norton, Jr. -- and players you haven't. George Andrie comes to mind. Either way, consider the below an unofficial list from a native Dallasite, and a not so closeted pro football historian.
Chuck Howley -- LB, 1961-73
Who he was: a dynamic playmaker who played better in his 30s than 20s, which is not to say he was bad in his 20s. The five-time first team All-Pro at outside linebacker was excellent in space, picking off 25 balls in his career, including three in two Super Bowls. He is the only player from a losing team to be named Super Bowl MVP.
Why Howley is Underrated: All that above, and he's not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame...say what!? If playing big in big games makes one a Hall of Famer, like a Lynn Swann -- who did not have great numbers -- how is Howley not in Canton? He played 14 years, making the Pro Bowl as a 35-year-old outside 'backer in 1971. Had the Cowboys not been so awful in the early '60s as an expansion team, and devoid of talent defensively, Howley might have received more accolades sooner.
Interesting Sidenote: Howley originally was a Chicago Bear, but hurt his knee in training camp in 1959, his second year. After taking a year off, he decided to make a comeback at 25 after playing in a West Virginia Alumni game.
Cliff Harris -- DB, 1970-79
Who he was: One of the hardest hitting safeties of the 1970s, a member of the All-Decade Team, and a two-time Super Bowl winner. Call him the lovechild of Ronnie Lott and Steve Atwater. Harris hung 'em up in 1979 after a Pro Bowl season.
Why Harris is Underrated: Well, if being named All-Pro five times and starting five Super Bowls (including as a rookie) isn't enough to make the Hall of Fame, what is? Playing safety traditionally has been a tough way to get entrance into Canton, yet it's safe to say that being named to the All-Decade Team, never being a backup and being in the Pro Bowl the majority of your career should count for something. Like Howley, he also is a Cowboys Ring of Honor Member. Not to mention, how many players retire as the best player at their position, or close to it?
Interesting Sidenote: Legendary sports writer Paul Zimmerman, known affectionately as "Dr. Z," had Harris as the best hitter/cover guy combo ever.
Darren Woodson -- SS, 1992-04
Who He Was: One of the guys Brian Dawkins patterned his game after. One of the few safeties who could walk up and cover the slot ... oh, and a five-time Pro Bowl selection. While there was nothing spectacular about Woodson, he merely was solid at everything: coverage, playing close to the line, or rushing the passer on safety blitzes. Like Howley and Harris, Woodson also has rings -- three of them.
Why Woodson is Underrated: "Woody" was one of those guys respected by every player, but never given the credit that Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin did. None other than rival Jason Sehorn told me, "Woodson might have been their best player. When we were on offense, the Cowboys didn't have to substitute because he could just walk up and man the slot. That's special." Most importantly, all Cowboys players speak highly of Woodson's leadership.
Interesting Sidenote: Despite all of Dallas' great defenders over the years, No. 28 still is the franchise's all-time leading tackler.
Everson Walls -- DB, 1981-89
Who He Was: The NFC's best cover corner in the 1980s, hands down ... or, up, considering how much he picked the ball off. This isn't to suggest he didn't get beat. He did. He more than made up for it by baiting opposing quarterbacks into throwing interceptions, then displaying superior ball skills when they did. Walls was the first player in NFL history to lead the league in interceptions three times. Only one has done it since: Ed Reed.
Why Walls is Underrated: a) He never gets mentioned seriously for the Hall of Fame, b) he's not in the Cowboys Ring of Honor, and c) most fans don't even know who he was. Walls was named to four Pro Bowl teams and made 18 interceptions in his first 24 games in the pros. Yikes.
Interesting Sidenote: The Giants signed Walls in 1990, and before long defensive coordinator Bill Belichick had Walls playing safety on a team with Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks and Leonard Marshall. Guess who called much of the defense?
Tony Romo -- QB, 2003-present
Who He Is: a player whose every mistake is the lead highlight on SportsCenter, and whose career is remembered more for a dropped snap, trip to Mexico and dating Jessica Simpson. Oh, his 7.9 yards per attempt are sixth ALL-TIME.
Why Romo is Underrated: Don't worry Romo haters, at least Romo's passer rating sucks. It's only 95.6, fifth ALL-TIME. Wait! He's not a "winner." Guessing 55-38 is a horrific record. While the Cowboys have a myriad of issues, be it offensive line, DeMarco Murray's health, or a defense that couldn't stop anyone last year, Romo was not the problem. He's been a solid citizen in Dallas and a very good player, if not great. His most famous miscue -- the dropped snap against the Seattle Seahawks -- was bad. Too bad no one ever mentions the fact that almost no starting quarterbacks in the NFL are ever asked to hold for kicks. If Romo is really as terrible as people say he is, then why don't people hate Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson or Drew Henson? Because they stunk.
Interesting Sidenote: An explanation for Romo not being a "Top 100 player" is that he isn't clutch, like an Eli Manning. Take a wild guess who the NFL's active leader in fourth quarter passer rating is ... as in, higher than Brady, Brees, and Eli? Yup, it's Romo.
Why He is Overrated: How does a guy make five straight Pro Bowls and then be out of the league a year later? Maybe because the Pro Bowl has become a mockery in recent years. The reality with Gurode was that he was an above average blocker who had his share of struggles with shotgun snaps. There were times you wondered whether the ball was going to end up in Romo's zip code, much less his hands.
Leon Lett -- DT, 1991-00
Who He Was: Leon Lett, a defensive tackle, played 10 seasons (1991 to 2000), including three Super Bowl teams. Because of two huge blunders -- the Don Beebe strip in Super Bowl XXVII, and smothering a live ball (and missing) in a Thanksgiving loss -- Lett is in the public consciousness. Often referred to as the "Big Cat," many fans remember him as a great player who just had two public foul ups (i.e. they feel sorry for him).
Why He is Overrated: Lett was a good player, but never made the impact he was supposed to. In fact, he was probably the seventh-best player on the Cowboys defense of the 90s, behind Darren Woodson, Charles Haley, Tony Tolbert, Darrin Smith, Deion Sanders and Jim Jeffcoat. Why he is primarily on this list, however, is because of what he could have been. The sky always was the limit with Lett. Unfortunately, the "Big Cat" was suspended three times for drug use, including in 1996 when the Cowboys dearly needed him in their run for another repeat. Instead, the Panthers ran all over Dallas in the playoffs.
Interesting Sidenote: Lett intercepted one pass his entire career, but it was huge. Lett picked off MVP Brett Favre in the 1995 NFC Championship game, setting up the Cowboys with an early two-score lead in a game they won 38-27.
Bill Parcells -- coach, 2003-06
Who He Was: A Hall of Fame worthy head coach, Parcells was hired by the Cowboys in 2003 and coached until 2006, finishing with a 34-30 record overall and two playoff appearances. The Cowboys would lose in the Wild Card round in both seasons.
Why He is Overrated: It's not so much that Parcells is overrated as much as his presence in Dallas was overstated. He did a wonderful job leading a band of average players to a 10-6 record in 2003. But his lackluster campaigns in 2004 and 2005 left some to wonder about his passion for the job. The 2006 Cowboys made the playoffs at 9-7, but ultimately his decision to keep Romo as the placeholder after being a starting quarterback for 10 weeks was dicey, ultimately costing the team. Fact is, Parcells is a Hall of Famer based on his coaching chops with the New York Giants, New England Patriots New York Jets. Wade Phillips took that 9-7 team and went 13-3 with it. Is Wade the same caliber as "the Tuna?" No. The point is, Parcells' tenure with the Cowboys was more about what could have been than what really was.
Interesting Sidenote: What Parcells deserves credit for is being a talent evaluator. The Cowboys' three current best players -- DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten and Tony Romo -- all arrived during Parcells' tenure.
Bob Hayes -- WR, 1965-74
Who He Was: "The World's Fastest Human," and 1964 Gold Medalist, Hayes is a Hall of Fame wide receiver who played 10 seasons in Dallas (1965 to 1974). Hayes's career began with two straight 1,000-yard seasons back when that was tough to do, given the rules of the day. His ability to run routes and catch the football -- he wasn't just a track guy -- caused secondaries to replace man with zone coverages, ultimately changing the game.
Why He is Overrated: The start was exhilarating. The finish, not so much. The two issues with Hayes -- somewhat nit-picky -- are the fact that his career went downhill after seven seasons, and he didn't finish seasons strong. Hayes was darn near transparent in the postseason. You know the saying ... big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games.
Interesting Sidenote: In 13 career playoff games, Hayes topped 50 yards only twice, while catching just two touchdown passes.
Marion Barber -- RB, 2005-10
Who He Was: A physical runner and solid blocker who played six seasons (2005 to 2010) with the Cowboys. Barber was a premium player at the end of games, wearing defenses down enough for John Madden to label him "the best closer in football."
Why He is Overrated: I won't argue with Madden. Marion "the Barbarian" was a closer ... for about two and a half seasons. That was the problem. Barber couldn't sustain his physical style of play, and considering he never once gained 1,000 yards, he probably was credited a bit too much. Cowboys fans loved how he ran over people, but part of that was because Barber was punishing defensive backs on second-and-five, when the defense didn't play eight in the box. The starter, Julius Jones, often was the running back getting the ball on first down. This isn't to say Barber couldn't play. He was awesome at inflicting punishment. His short stint as a productive back and limitations -- he was never going to threaten Tony Dorsett's 99-yard run -- made him a bit overrated at the time.
Interesting Sidenote: Barber's father, Marion Barber, Jr., was a running back and special teamer for the Jets in the 1980s.
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL.