I'll give you the No. 1 reason why it will always be difficult to pinpoint DeMarcus Ware's justified position within the hierarchy of great Dallas Cowboys: 18 of the 20 men in the team's "Ring of Honor" either played, coached or managed in Dallas after the 1970 merger and every single one of them has a Super Bowl ring with the 'Boys.
Ware, who left the franchise this month as its all-time sack leader, undoubtedly deserves a spot in that group, but even Don Meredith and Don Perkins—the two members inducted based on careers that ended prior to the merger—still helped Dallas get to the NFL Championship Game in 1967.
Though Ware was this franchise's most dominant player for most if not all of his nine seasons in Dallas, the Cowboys were an unimpressive 81-63, with only three playoff appearances and a single playoff victory during that span.
In Dallas, winning is everything. It's why Tony Romo is no Roger Staubach or Troy Aikman regardless of what the individual statistics say.
Although non-quarterbacks aren't charged with team failures in the same way, not being part of any sort of team glory complicates legacies—especially here.
Ware may never get proper credit for his on-field accomplishments because he wasn't able to do enough to help America's Team win. It was 47-38 (.553) in games in which he recorded at least half a sack and somehow 34-25 (.576) when he had zero sacks.
Still, he walks away as the only Cowboy with over 100 official sacks in that uniform.
|Cowboys: All-time sack leaders|
|1. DeMarcus Ware||2005-2013||117||0.83|
|2. Harvey Martin||1973-1983||114||0.72|
|3. Randy White||1975-1988||111||0.53|
|4. Too Tall Jones||1974-1989||106||0.47|
|5. Jim Jeffcoat||1983-1994||94.5||0.50|
|6. Greg Ellis||1998-2008||77||0.48|
|7. Tony Tolbert||1989-1997||59||0.41|
|8. Charles Haley||1992-1996||34||0.54|
|Pro Football Reference/Dallas Cowboys|
Martin, White and Jones get asterisks because they were Cowboys since the mid-1970s, but sacks weren't a stat until 1982. All of their sack numbers prior to that were recorded by the team.
That 117 number doesn't do his contributions justice, though, because Ware was so much more effective on a per-game basis than everyone else on the list. He averaged more than four sacks per five games, while only one other player on the list had more than three per five-game span—and Martin's stats don't officially count because most of them came before sacks were counted by the league.
Ware also hit single-season highs that nobody in Dallas has even come close to.
|Highest single-season sack totals in Cowboys history|
|1. DeMarcus Ware||2008||20|
|2. DeMarcus Ware||2011||19.5|
|3. DeMarcus Ware||2010||15.5|
|4. DeMarcus Ware||2007||14|
|4. Jim Jeffcoat||1986||14|
|Pro Football Reference|
During a six-year stretch between 2006 and 2011, Ware was easily the game's most feared pass-rusher. He had 91.5 sacks during that stretch, while only one other player in football had more than 63.
|Most sacks between 2006 and 2011|
|1. DeMarcus Ware||91.5|
|2. Jared Allen||85|
|3. Trent Cole||63|
|4. Julius Peppers||59.5|
|5. John Abraham||59|
|Pro Football Reference|
He's also the only player in NFL history with two seasons with 19.5 or more sacks. Despite the fact that he's only been in the league nine years, he's one of only 16 players in league history with seven double-digit-sack seasons.
So, on paper, there's little doubt that Ware is the best pure pass-rusher in Cowboys history and already worthy of a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well as the franchise's Ring of Honor.
We might never remember him like we do Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin because those guys won championships and made more unforgettable plays on the offensive side of the ball. The same rules apply to Drew Pearson, Tony Dorsett and Bob Hayes.
But if we're talking dominant Cowboys on the defensive side of the ball, it's fair to include Ware in conversation with White, Haley, Harris, Renfro, Howley and Bob Lilly.
All of those guys won Super Bowls, but this is a team sport, so there are only so many points we can dock Ware for being in the wrong place at the wrong time historically.
|Cowboys Ring of Honor vs. Ware: Accolade comparison|
|Defensive player||Seasons||Pro Bowl||All-Pro||All-Pro/seasons|
|Lee Roy Jordan||14||5||1||0.07|
|NFL.com/Pro Football Reference|
If we've cast Ware as somewhat of a victim, that's no accident.
We always want to believe that the players we're watching now are the best of all time and familiarity often trumps nostalgia in situations like these, but Ware is really the only Cowboys player from the last decade who stands out like some of those legends from past glory days.
However, the real shame is that nine-year total. He's truly a victim here because Ware didn't get to have the same long-term impact on the Cowboys that defensive studs like White, Lilly, Renfro and Howley were able to over significantly longer tenures.
For that, Jerry Jones has only himself to blame. This Cowboys team has struggled so much on and off the field that it's been forced to let a legend walk away earlier than anyone ever expected.
Sadly, Ware will now continue to build his legacy, but in another team's uniform.