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PFT’s 2012 postseason awards

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The Associated Press now unveils its postseason awards the night before the Super Bowl, weeks after most people have stopped caring about the winner.

So we announce ours immediately after the regular season ends.

At a time when you still actually are interested in these matters and not, you know, you’ll win the Super Bowl, here are the men who, in our opinion, deserve special recognition for their accomplishments in the freshly-completed regular season.

Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Winner: Russell Wilson, Seahawks.

Runner-up: Robert Griffin, III, Redskins; Andrew Luck, Colts.

Honorable mention: Alfred Morris, Redskins; Doug Martin, Buccaneers.

The AP award likely will go to either of the top two picks in the draft, but it shouldn’t.  Wilson entered the league short on height and long on smarts and talent and determination.  Russell Wilson commanded the No. 1 spot on the depth chart in Seattle, beating out big-money free-agent Matt Flynn and incumbent starter Tarvaris Jackson, and Wilson then began to prove week-in and week-out that he is as good as his more famous counterparts who were selected much higher.

Despite the 11-5 record for the Colts, Luck had too many turnovers (contributing to a mediocre passer rating of 76.5), and Griffin missed a game and crunch time in another due to an inability to avoid contact.  While Luck broke Cam Newton’s rookie passing yardage record, Wilson tied Peyton Manning’s record for touchdown passes by a rookie — and Wilson showed that he could run the ball effectively (489 yards, four touchdowns) without getting hit or, in turn, hurt.

The best news is that the three rookie quarterbacks all made it to the playoffs, and they’ll all make their postseason debuts on the same day.

Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Winner:  Luke Kuechly, Panthers.

Runner-up:  Janoris Jenkins, Rams.

Honorable mention:  Bobby Wagner, Seahawks; Lavonte David, Buccaneers; Casey Heyward, Packers; Harrison Smith, Vikings.

The ninth overall pick in the draft, Kuechly led the NFL with 164 tackles, finishing 10 short of the rookie record set in 2007 by Patrick Willis.  Kuechly also had 10 games with 10 or more tackles.  In Week Five, he slid from outside linebacker to the middle, where he participated in every snap on defense for the rest of the season.

Jenkins, a second-round steal, instantly became a dangerous cover man and return specialist.  He could soon be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.  Some may say he already is.

Coach of the Year.

Winner:  Bruce Arians/Chuck Pagano, Colts.

Runner-up:  Leslie Frazier, Vikings.

Honorable mention:  Mike Shanahan, Redskins; Pete Carroll, Seahawks; John Fox, Broncos; Mike Smith, Falcons.

The best coach routinely is determined based on a team’s actual performance relative to its expected performance.  This year, no team exceeded expectations more than the Colts, who won 11 games a season after winning only two.  Pagano and Arians combined to generate a wild-card berth despite Pagano’s three-month absence due to leukemia treatments, as part of a run that included seven come-from-behind wins.

Frazier and the Vikings improved their win total by seven, going from 3-13 to 10-6 and a playoff berth secured on the last day of the season against the Packers.  Shanahan and the Redskins reeled off seven straight to secure the NFC East after Shanahan seemingly threw in the towel on the 2012 season.  (And all future coaches whose teams are 3-6 after nine games will do the same.)

In all, three of the six worst teams from 2011 have vaulted to the playoffs only one year later, providing real hope to every other non-playoff team, in 2013 and beyond.

Comeback Player of the Year.

Winner:  Peyton Manning, Broncos; Adrian Peterson, Vikings.

The two greatest comebacks in NFL history came in the same year.  For Manning, the return from multiple neck surgeries was unprecedented.  For Peterson, his performance following a Christmas Eve 2011 ACL tear was equally stunning and unlikely.  Both deserve the recognition, and it’s only fair for them to share it.

It’s also only fair that there be no one else mentioned as the runner-up or otherwise.  Manning and Peterson are in their own class on this one, and no one else comes close.

Executive of the Year.

Winner: John Elway, Broncos.

Runner-up: John Schneider, Seahawks.

Honorable mention: Ryan Grigson, Colts; Rick Spielman, Vikings; Les Snead, Rams.

Elway wanted Peyton Manning in large part because it gave Elway cover to dump Tim Tebow.  The gamble (in light of Manning’s recent medical history) paid off in a major way, making other teams (like perhaps the Texans) wish they’d done more to land one of the greatest players in NFL history.  Though making the move for Manning is enough on its own, hiring coach John Fox in 2011 after a two-win season in Carolina, picking linebacker Von Miller in last year’s draft, and not giving up on Knowshon Moreno are icing on a cake that Elway has been masterfully baking for the past two season — even though Elway entered the job with fry-cook credentials.

Schneider found a quarterback who could become one of the best current signal-callers in the league in round three of the draft, five spots after the Jaguars picked a punter.  Schneider likewise rolled the dice in round one on Bruce Irvin, a controversial pick who panned out as a rookie.  Throw in linebacker Bobby Wagner in round two and the prudent decision to re-sign Marshawn Lynch, and Schneider had a lot to do with the team’s unexpected success in 2012.

Grigson quickly turned around a talent-challenged roster with a strong draft and the ability to make good decisions about who should stay and who should go, bringing back Reggie Wayne and keeping Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.  His success will make more owners opt for young, grinding scouts.

Offensive player of the year.

Winner:  Adrian Peterson, Vikings.

Runner-upCalvin Johnson, Lions.

Honorable mentionDrew Brees, Saints; Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks.

Peterson is the easy and obvious choice, given that he rushed for 2,097 yards, the second most in NFL history.

Johnson set the single-season record for receiving yardage with 1,964, and Brees threw for more than 5,000 yards for the third time in his career.  Lynch’s performance gets lost in Peterson, but the guy the Bills gave away has become one of the best running backs in the league.

Defensive Player of the Year.

WinnerJ.J. Watt, Texans.

Runner-up:  Von Miller, Broncos.

Honorable mention: Aldon Smith, 49ers; Charles Tillman, Bears.

Watt was a wire-to-wire disruptive force for the Texans.  Beyond his league-leading sack total (20.5), Watt has shattered the mold for 3-4 defensive ends.  Miller is becoming one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers in the NFL, and Smith has emerged as the top 3-4 pass-rushing outside linebacker.

Amazingly, all three players are in only their second seasons in the NFL.

MVP.

Winner:  Adrian Peterson, Vikings.

Runner-up: Peyton Manning, Broncos.

Honorable mention: J.J. Watt, Texans; Aaron Rodgers, Packers; Tom Brady, Patriots; Matt Ryan, Falcons.

Many have wrestled with this one for weeks, determined to give it to Manning but keeping an open mind for Peterson.  It would have been easy to say Peterson gets it only if he sets the single-season rushing record.  It’s harder to accept that he missed it (by 27 feet) but still deserves it.

In the end, Peterson’s value to his team simply outweighs Manning’s — even though Peyton once again has had a season to remember, shrewdly picking a talented team with an easy schedule and pushing the franchise to the top seed in the AFC.  Last year, however, the Broncos made it to the final eight without Manning.  This year, the Vikings would have been nothing without Peterson, a man who overcame a serious knee injury to become better than he ever was.

Moreover, at a time when we are more sensitive than ever before to the damage inflicted on the bodies of NFL players, Peterson earned every yard, foot, and inch that he gained.  Even the long runs came after he ran through a potential tackler.  Or two.  Or five.

So that’s the full list.  Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments.

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Lions hire Barry Sanders for marketing post

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The Lions are clearly trying to mend fences with Calvin Johnson, inviting the retired wide receiver to training camp after an offseason of critical comments about the team. But they’ve taken another step to bring another legend back into the fold.

Via Justin Rogers of the Detroit News, the Lions have hired Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders as a “brand ambassador.”

Sanders’ sudden walkaway after 10 seasons was the template for Johnson leaving the team at 30. Like Johnson, he was still producing at a high level when he retired (rushing for 1,491 yards in his 10th season). But the abrupt departure caught many off guard, which is why the team feels this is an important move.

“We’ve thankfully, the last couple years, had an unofficial relationship with him,” team president Rod Wood said. “This year, we formalized it. You described it well, it’s kind of a brand ambassador. He’ll be going on road trips, showing up for suite visits, he’ll be at the Taste of the Lions event, and just interacting with our fans on behalf of the team.

“It’s a formal agreement. I worked with Barry and his agent to put something together that works for both of us. It’s not a football role. It’s more of a marketing, business role.”

Though the circumstances of Sanders’ and Johnson’s departures from the team are similar, Wood was hesitant to connect recent efforts to get them back in the family.

“I’m not going to try and draw comparisons to the two,” Wood said. “I wasn’t here when Barry left, but I’ve been really involved bringing him back into the fold. Like I’ve said, I’m confident the Calvin situation will work itself out.”

Considering some of the things Johnson has said lately, it might take a little more time on that front.

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Jason Pierre-Paul thinks Giants are a Super Bowl contender again

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It’s late July, and no one has put on pads yet. So naturally, they all think they’re going to the Super Bowl.

OK, maybe not the Jets.

But New York’s other team is in position to contend for the title, according to their longest-tenured defensive player.

“I think the key is we added a lot of guys and people are like ‘Wow, this year has to be a team that goes to a Super Bowl this year,’ ’’ Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said, via Paul Schwartz of the New York Post. “But it’s all about the hard work.’’

Much of that offseason work included signing Pierre-Paul to a long-term deal, though the rest of their big moves were on offense after last year’s splurge on defensive free agents. And has hard as it may be to believe, the 28-year-old is an elder statesman now, with only quarterback Eli Manning and long snapper Zak DeOssie having been there longer.

“That’s crazy,’’ he said. “Nobody on that defense has been here longer than me, I’ve been there the longest, I know what it takes to get to the Super Bowl, to bring a Giants pride in our heart. That’s what defense is really about.’’

And because it’s late July, they (along with everyone else in the league) think that will lead them to Minnesota for the Super Bowl.

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Report: Rams to hire Brian Xanders to front office role

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The Los Angeles Rams are set to add former Detroit Lions and Denver Broncos executive Brian Xanders to their front office, according to Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network.

The Lions decided to part ways with Xanders in May. He had been a holdover from prior general manager Martin Mayhew and the Lions’ new G.M., Bob Quinn, elected to move on without him.

Xanders could be filling the post vacated by the departure of Ran Carthon in April. Carthon had served as the Rams’ director of pro personnel for the last five seasons.

Xanders spent the last four years in Detroit as a senior personnel executive. He had previously served five years in Denver – first as an assistant general manager in 2008 and then four years as the general manager with the Broncos through the 2012 season. He spent 14 years with the Atlanta Falcons in various roles before heading to Denver.

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Packers assistant Darren Perry convicted, fined for drunk driving arrest

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Green Bay Packers safeties coach Darren Perry pleaded no contest and was fined for a December arrest for drunk driving, according to Paul Srubas of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Perry was fined $225 with an eight-month suspension of his license for the first-time offense, which is deemed an ordinance violation in Brown County. Additional fees and costs bring the total to $956. The plea agreement led to other charges being dropped against Perry, including unsafe lane deviation and refusal to take a breathalyzer test.

Perry has spent eight seasons with the Packers and 15 years in the NFL as a coach. He spent time as an assistant with the Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders before joining Mike McCarthy’s staff in Green Bay in 2009.

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Jaguars place Marquez Williams on PUP list

As training camp gets set to open for the Jacksonville Jaguars, the team placed fullback Marquez Williams on the physically unable to perform list on Thursday.

Williams was a seventh-round pick of the Jaguars in May’s NFL Draft out of the University of Miami.

Williams will continue to count against the 90-man roster limit in the preseason and be activated any time before the start of the regular season upon passing a physical. Players must be on the PUP list from the start of training camp in order to be eligible for the in-season version of the list, which would require the players to miss the first six weeks of the regular season before being eligible to return.

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Gregg Williams can’t wait to utilize Jamie Collins’ versatility

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Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams wants every player on his unit to learn two positions. Linebacker Jamie Collins reminds Williams that he played safety at Southern Mississippi.

He’s begging me to play safety,” Williams said, via Patrick Maks of the team website. “And I’m not saying he couldn’t be the best one out there right now. If he wanted to play defensive end, he could play defensive end.”

Collins, who arrived in Cleveland after a midseason trade with the Patriots, is versatile, athletic and intelligent, Williams said. Collins played quarterback in high school, and, at an offseason skills challenge, he drained a 30-yard throw into the kicking net on the first try.

“There’s lots of things about his versatility,” Williams said, “that it’s going to be fun and challenging to find spots to cut him loose.”

In eight games with Cleveland last season, Collins made 69 tackles and two sacks and forced a fumble.

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Jets reach agreement with first-round pick Jamal Adams

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The New York Jets have reached a deal with first-round pick Jamal Adams, according to his agency Universal Sports Management.

The No. 6 overall selection in the draft, Adams was one of just six draft picks without contract following Patrick Mahomes signing with the Kansas City Chiefs earlier on Thursday.

Adams’ deal will be a four-year contract with an option for a fifth year.

Adams was the top defensive back selected in the draft in a class considered deep in secondary talent. He appeared in 36 games at LSU over the last three seasons with 209 total tackles, 18 for loss with two sacks, five interceptions and two forced fumbles.

Just five draft picks now remain unsigned: 49ers defensive end Solomon Thomas (No. 3 overall), Titans receiver Corey Davis (No. 5 overall), Raiders cornerback Gareon Conley (No. 24 overall) and safety Jabrill Peppers (No. 25 overall). The Raiders’ second-rounder, Obi Melifonwu, also remains unsigned.

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Rob Ninkovich on Matt Patricia’s choice of T-shirt: Everyone has to wear clothes

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Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reported earlier this week that Roger Goodell remains miffed about Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia’s choice to wear a T-shirt mocking the Commissioner upon the team’s return from Super Bowl LI. Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich says get over it.

Everyone has the right to wear whatever shirt they want,” Ninkovich said on Boston Herald Radio’s “The Rundown.” “Everyone has to wear a shirt, right? You can’t just wear no shirt. I think someone threw it at [Patricia], and he said, ‘All right, nice shirt, it’s cool, it’s blue, so I’ll put it on.’ I thought it was a funny shirt.”

Goodell hasn’t returned to Foxboro since the Deflategate controversy began but is expected for the regular-season opener there Sept. 7. He could bump into Patricia, who wore Barstool Sports Goodell-with-a-clown-nose T-shirt as he deplaned after the return from Houston in February.

Ninkovich doesn’t expect Patricia’s choice of T-shirt to hinder the defensive coordinator’s chances of getting a head coaching job.

“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Ninkovich said. “People want to take it how they want to take it. If you really think about it, everyone has to wear clothes, so you just put a shirt on, and you know, it is what it is. I think it’s a nice shirt. It’s blue. I love blue. My favorite color is blue.”

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Dak Prescott works with Tom Shaw in readying for season

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While his teammates were vacationing, Dak Prescott was hard at work in Orlando. He has spent his off time training with renowned athletic performance trainer Tom Shaw at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

The quarterback finished up his extra work with Shaw on Thursday and headed home as the Cowboys report for physicals Friday.

“He is serious about improving all aspects of his game – and I mean all of it,” Shaw said, via Walt Disney World Sports Public Relations. “He works on the non-football stuff – the conditioning, the core strength work, the weight room strength work, and he attacks the on-field work that’s necessary to become a great player in the NFL. This guy is a worker.”

Prescott began working with Shaw, a former strength and conditioning coach for the Patriots and Saints, before the 2016 draft. The Cowboys made Prescott a fourth-round draft pick, and he won offensive rookie of the year honors after posting a 13-3 record.

“I think he’s the best,” Prescott said of Shaw. “He’s my guy. He tells you exactly what you need to hear instead of what you want to hear. He is honest with all the guys which I greatly appreciate. I came here to Disney to train because I wanted to be in the best possible condition when I go back to my team. I wanted to get that good sweat in down here in Florida to make sure that from a conditioning standpoint, I’m ready to go when my team heads to training camp in California.”

Prescott didn’t show many weaknesses last season after passing for 23 touchdowns and four interceptions, but according to him, he has some. So this offseason, as defensive coordinators worked to take way Prescott’s strengths, Prescott worked to improve his weaknesses.

“Coach Shaw talks to us all the time about turning your weaknesses into strengths, so that’s what I’ve been focusing on during the majority of the spring,” Prescott said. “As an NFL quarterback, there is always some aspect of your game — accuracy, footwork, strength — something you can always work on to improve, so that’s been my focus.”

Shaw raved about Prescott’s work ethic, believing that is what will separate the former Mississippi State star in the NFL.

“This guy has a chance to be an elite quarterback in the NFL,” Shaw said. “The game is important to him. He wants to improve, and he works at it. That’s the way you improve in the NFL: You have to work at it, and that’s what Dak does.”

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Tony Romo on Ezekiel Elliott: He’s going to figure it out and be fine

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Ezekiel Elliott has made the headlines several times for the wrong reasons in his brief career. But former teammate Tony Romo said adjusting to the spotlight that comes with playing in the NFL takes time, and insists the star running back will “figure it out and be fine.”

“Zeke, he’s a friend,” Romo said on 105.3 The Fan, via Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News. “I know that he’s a good kid. He’s just trying to find his way. He’s in a position that he’s always going to be in a spot where people are going to take a photo, they’re going to talk about him. We all get these little times in our career where you can go two different directions. He’s figuring it out. He’s obviously made some choices he’ll reflect back and wish he done a little different. But at the same time, just not a whole lot of people are really thrust into this spotlight, this soon, at that age. Really, even in the National Football League there’s only a few of them. I always want to give people a little grace period and a little time. The fact the I know him and I know his personality and how much good he does off the field, how good he is with people, I think he’s going to figure it out and be fine. But like we say, you always got to take responsibility and try to improve in all facets of life.”

Dallas police suspended an investigation into a Sunday night altercation involving Elliott after the alleged victim failed to respond to multiple attempts to contact him and no witnesses came forward. But Elliott also remains under investigation by the NFL for allegations of domestic violence made against him by a former girlfriend a year ago; he is appealing a misdemeanor conviction for speeding after a state trooper clocked his 2016 Dodge Charger traveling 100 mph; he exposed a woman’s breasts during a St. Patrick’s Day parade; and he visited a marijuana dispensary in Seattle last preseason.

Coach Jason Garrett offered support to Elliott on Wednesday, saying, “Zeke’s someone we believe very strongly in as a person and as a football player, and we’re going to continue to believe in him and try to put a structure around him and all of our players to help them make great decisions and grow – grow on and off the field.”

The Cowboys’ veterans report to The Star for physicals on Friday. The team leaves for Oxnard, Calif., on Saturday.

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Ravens make several roster moves

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The Ravens made several moves Thursday.

They waived defensive back Daniel Henry with an injury designation, and placed offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor on the non-football injury list.

The Ravens also placed receiver Aaron Bailey and defensive end Patrick Ricard on the physically unable to perform list.

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Chiefs sign Patrick Mahomes

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Quarterback Patrick Mahomes won’t be missing any of his first NFL training camp due to a contract dispute.

Mahomes was one of the few unsigned 2017 draft picks left in the league until the Chiefs announced on Thursday afternoon that he has agreed to a contract with the team. Like all first-round picks, Mahomes’ contract runs four years with a team option for a fifth season.

Mahomes went to Kansas City with the 10th overall pick after the Chiefs made a trade with the Bills to move into the spot. They gave up a third-round pick and next year’s first-round selection for a player who is expected to serve as a backup to Alex Smith for at least one season before taking over as the team’s starter.

With Mahomes under contract, there are six unsigned picks left around the league. Five of them are first-round selections, including three of the top six picks, but things could start to move with Mahomes and second overall pick Mitchell Trubisky agreeing to deals in the last two days.

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Patriots release OL Chase Farris

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The Patriots released offensive lineman Chase Farris on Thursday.

Farris, 24, spent the majority of last season on the New England practice squad after first being signed to the squad on Oct. 5, 2016.

The Lions originally signed Farris as an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State. Detroit released him before the start of the season, though the Lions re-signed him to the practice squad before releasing him Sept. 21, 2016.

Farris began his college career as a defensive lineman and transitioned to the offensive line following his sophomore season. He was a starter at right tackle during his senior season at Ohio State in 2015.
 

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Philip Rivers: Keenan Allen looks as good as before ACL tear

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Chargers first-round pick Mike Williams is dealing with a back injury that could leave him unavailable to the team during his rookie season and having a wideout dealing with an injury is something quarterback Philip Rivers has become overly accustomed to over the years.

In 2016, for example, Rivers played 15-plus games without having Keenan Allen in the lineup. Allen tore his ACL in the first game of the season, leaving him with just six catches for 63 yards to show for the year.

Allen, who also missed eight games with a lacerated kidney in 2015, was working on the field with the team during OTAs this spring and Rivers said he doesn’t think anyone will notice a difference in the wideout’s play.

“I really think he looks as good as he did before he got hurt,” Rivers said on The Rich Eisen Show.

A healthy Allen is a vital piece of the Chargers offensive puzzle whether Williams is healthy enough to contribute this year or not, so Rivers’ words are encouraging even if history provides reason to be skeptical that the rookie’s injury is the last one the Chargers will deal with this year.

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Jerry Jones on buying the Cowboys: It was not a pretty investment

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The Cowboys were losing $1 million a month when Jerry Jones bought them for $140 million in 1989. They now rank atop Forbes’ annual team value rankings at $4.2 billion.

Every owner these days is trying to keep up with Jones, who enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame next month.

“The NFL was always a dream of mine, an ambition of mine, and I must say that almost within months of the time that I actually could afford to basically be involved — 29 years ago — to be involved in an ownership position, I immediately exchanged the financial security and basically put our future, put practically everything in terms of the Dallas Cowboys in buying the team,” Jones said on a Hall of Fame press conference Thursday. “It was not a pretty investment. It wasn’t one that you or anybody else would admire at the time. That was not the point. The point was what it could do. It really does show that in spite of some of the physical aspects of challenges that if you just have enough passion about things [you can be successful]. My most important thing is I don’t think I’ve worked a day since I bought the Dallas Cowboys. It has absolutely been a labor of love every morning, and I’ve [never] been more excited about the future, the future of the league, the future of the Cowboys, my future. I’m more excited today than I was maybe in ’89 when I became involved.”

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