Sometimes, linebackers can go unappreciated on a defense. They aren’t plowing through offensive linemen en route to a sack. They typically don’t jump a wide receiver’s route before grabbing an interception and bringing it back for a pick-six.
They’re the leaders of the defense, getting play calls from the coordinators and audibling coverages at the line of scrimmage. Linebackers also have grueling jobs, getting their noses in on every play and stuffing running backs at the line of scrimmage.
So let’s give them some shine and highlight the five best Cowboys linebackers of all time:
5. Ken Norton Jr. (1988-1993)
Norton is the son of former world champion boxer Ken Norton, so maybe Norton Jr.’s ability to lay heavy hits was genetic.
He was the defensive leader of the Dallas teams that won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1992 and 1993, then he brought his talents to the San Francisco 49ers and won another Lombardi Trophy in 1994. That feat made Norton Jr. the first player to win three consecutive Super Bowls.
Norton Jr. tallied 579 tackles in his six seasons in Big D, and made one Pro Bowl along with one All-Pro second team selection.
4. Sean Lee (2010-2020)
Lee will forever hold a special place in the hearts of Cowboys fans for his gritty style of play. He was also a lifelong Cowboys player, spending all 10 seasons donning the silver and blue.
Fans only saw the work Lee put in on Sundays, but he built a reputation as a student of the game who spent much of his time in the film room becoming the most knowledgeable player on many of his Dallas defenses.
His hours of preparation before each game made him an all-around great linebacker. He finished his career with 802 tackles, 60 tackles for loss and 14 interceptions. Lee even led the NFL in interception return yardage in 2013 when he ran his single-season high four interceptions back for 174 yards.
Lee made two Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team during his tenure in Big D. He unfortunately missed a lot of time due to injury throughout his career, sitting a total of 58 games.
3. Lee Roy Jordan (1963-1976)
Jordan’s 6’1, 221-pound frame was considered undersized for a linebacker in his era. But that didn’t stop him from leaving an everlasting legacy in the Cowboys franchise.
Jordan was a leader on the 1971 defense, a team that won the first Super Bowl in franchise history.
While he was a skilled tackler, Jordan’s strengths were a bit unconventional for a linebacker. He had great hands, catching 32 interceptions and recovering 18 fumbles in his career.
Jordan made five Pro Bowls and was the 1973 Defensive Player of the Year.
2. Chuck Howley (1961-1973)
Howley and Jordan made for a lethal 1-2 punch on Dallas’ 1973 championship team. Howley’s efforts in the 1971 Super Bowl earned him MVP honors, despite Dallas’ loss to the Baltimore Colts in the big game. He’s the only losing player to win the award.
Howley racked up 25 interceptions and 18 fumble recoveries in his 13 seasons with the Cowboys. During that time, he also made six Pro Bowls and earned five All-Pro honors.
1. DeMarcus Ware
Ware isn’t yet in the Pro Football Hall of Fame because a player must be out of the NFL for five seasons before they’re eligible for induction. But it’s safe to assume he’ll be donning a gold jacket once he can officially be listed on the ballot.
Ware’s ability to wreck opposing offense’s gameplans earned him a spot on the list of the best Cowboys defenders of all time, as well as one of the most dominant pass rushers the NFL has ever seen.
The Auburn, Alabama-native’s 117 sacks are the most in franchise history, and his 138.5 career sacks are the ninth most in NFL history. Ware’s best season came in 2008 when he recorded 20 sacks and 27 tackles for loss, which rank 12th and sixth, respectively, in league history.
Ware made seven Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams in his time with Dallas. He then added two more Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl to his resume in his final three seasons with the Denver Broncos.