The Dallas Cowboys are 9–1. Ezekiel Elliott is the best runner in football, Dak Prescott is the best story in football. Simply put, we are all living in Jerry’s world.
By Jan. 2, the 50 voters for the Associated Press’ NFL MVP award will have to cast their ballots. If voting ended today, there’s no telling who would win the award among Prescott, Elliott, Russell Wilson and Tom Brady. Each one is worthy of votes, and one of them will likely win the award no matter how the final month of the season plays out. But allow me to modestly propose something many have been saying off-handedly the past few weeks.
The Cowboys’ offensive line should be a legitimate contender for MVP.
This is more than the joke we all passed around in 2011 when many said Peyton Manning should be the NFL MVP because the Colts were 2–14 as their quarterback sidelined with neck surgeries. Or that Sean Payton deserved Coach of the Year honors in 2012 when the Saints’ offense sputtered during Payton’s Bountygate suspension. Cute ideas but nothing more.
The Cowboys’ O-line for MVP has its roots in reality. They have been the most valuable part of any team this season. Tyron Smith, Doug Free, Ronald Leary, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick have punished opposing defenses through 10 games. They have collectively helped Elliott rush for a league-leading 1,102 yards and kept a mostly clean pocket for the rookie Prescott to make good decision and eliminate turnovers. A successful offense relies on a strong ground game to open up a low-mistake passing attack, and Dallas has both thanks mostly to its line.
I reached out to Barry Wilner, an Associated Press editor who has arranged the voting for about two decades, on Sunday night after Dallas’s 27–17 win against the Ravens set a franchise record with nine straight wins. Are voters supposed to vote for only one player? Could a voter vote for a group? “You can split your vote, though it is not encouraged,” Wilner wrote. “The award is Most Valuable Player, singular.”
I have no problem with that interpretation. While “most valuable” can sometimes mean most outstanding, the “player” part of the award has never been in question. But twice within the past 20 years there have been two winners for the same award. Brett Favre and Barry Sanders shared the award from the 1997 season (even though Sanders broke the 2,000-yard mark in the final game but voters had already cast their ballots), and Manning and Steve McNair split the award in 2003 after each led their AFC South teams to 12-4 records.
Then, of course, there was the wacky, strike-shortened 1982 season when AP voters gave the award to Washington kicker Mark Moseley in what is still today the biggest head-scratcher of all major sports awards. Moseley went 20 of 21 on field goals that season, but he was still a placekicker. Giving the award to five 300-pound men who dominate the game for a combined 350 plays a game could be no worse than awarding the MVP to someone who successfully made 20 field goals in a shortened season.
A vote for the Cowboys’ line would also show creativity that other year-end awards have long held. Our Sportsperson of the Year Award gave the U.S. Olympic hockey team the honor in 1980—and we nominated a horse last year. Time’s Person of the Year in 1950 was the American fighting man. Both publications have had several other creative winners since.
While Moseley’s MVP takes the cake, there have been other strange voting outcomes for awards among our major professional sports. The most recent was Justin Verlander earning more first-place AL Cy Young votes than any other pitcher but coming in second place in the total vote, much to the chagrin of Kate Upton. The voting led to ESPN’s Buster Olney writing that baseball scribes should get out of the award-voting business with a number of examples of anomalous voting over the years:
“This is only the latest chapter in the strange history of problems with writer balloting. It dates back to the years when Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio were inexplicably left out of the top 10 in MVP voting, or 1996, when Alex Rodriguez got 10 first-place votes but was somehow listed seventh on two ballots, or 1999, when Pedro Martinez missed out on the AL MVP because he was omitted from two ballots. Five years after Willie Mays retired at the end of his historic career, 23 writers didn’t vote for him for the Hall of Fame, and a few years later, nine writers failed to vote for Hank Aaron, and 45 for Frank Robinson.”
Steph Curry became the first player in NBA history to win the league’s top award by unanimous vote last season. But he should have been at least the third to win the honor in that way by any objective standard. Shaquille O’Neal fell one vote shy in the 1999-2000 season (that one went to seventh-place Allen Iverson), and LeBron James was also one vote short (that to third-place Carmelo Anthony) for the 2012-2013 season.
It’s possible the vote for the Cowboys’ offensive line is a compromise pick. Prescott and Elliott will likely split voters who think the award should go to the best singular player on the league’s best team like usual.
This award may not land in Dallas at all, though. Brady’s magical revenge tour has 16 touchdowns to just one interception, even with four games missed, and he’s completing 70 percent of his passes. Wilson, who somehow has never received a single MVP vote, has his Seahawks at 7-2-1 despite injuries to himself and his running backs and a shoddy offensive line.
But let’s at least offer some consideration to this outside-the-box thinking. After all, it’s not like I’m asking to surreptitiously turn a ballot over to a fan.