Most Influential NFL Owners of All Time: Jerry Jones, George Halas Headline Top 7

Who are the most influential NFL owners of all time? We offer our top seven, which includes legends such as Jerry Jones and George Halas.

As much as we talk about players, coaches, and general managers, the owners run the show in the NFL. Since the league’s inception, various ownership groups have pulled the strings necessary to keep the NFL on its path toward United States sports dominance. And, of course, some owners have been better than others.

But who are the most influential NFL owners of all time? We ranked the top seven, along with four honorable mentions.

7 Most Influential NFL Owners of All Time

Honorable mentions: Robert Kraft (Patriots), Community owners (Packers), Paul Allen (Seahawks), Pat Bowlen (Broncos)

7) Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys)

Jerry Jones is probably the most polarizing team owner in U.S. professional sports today. He and George Steinbrenner would duke it out for the top spot on that all-time list.

However, there’s no denying Jones’ influence and impact on the NFL, and he remains arguably the most powerful person in the league. Just read what this agent told The Athletic’s Ben Standig in 2022 when asked to name the NFL’s most powerful individual:

“Hands down, without a doubt, No. 1, and anyone who says otherwise is an absolute idiot. Jerry Jones is the shadow commissioner of the National Football League,” the agent said.

“He has made more rain for more owners than any man in the history of professional football in America. He single-handedly backstabbed Dean Spanos and the Chargers organization with what he did for Stan Kroenke in the Rams deal, which was obviously in the best interests of the NFL.

“He’s made Roger Goodell his puppet. He’s involved intimately in almost every marketing deal that the NFL has done over a billion dollars. And he has brought the windfall to all of these owners.”

Jones purchased the Dallas Cowboys for $140 million in 1989. Today, the Cowboys are valued at just over $9.2 billion.

6) Ralph Wilson (Buffalo Bills)

Without Ralph Wilson, the NFL wouldn’t look the same today.

Wilson owned the Buffalo Bills from 1960, when they were a founding member of the AFL, until his death in 2014. Instrumental in the AFL’s early success, Wilson once lent $400,000 to the Oakland Raiders to keep them financially afloat and was willing to do the same for the New England Patriots. Without Wilson, the AFL likely would’ve folded before merging with the NFL in 1970.

The outrageously successful story of the NFL can’t be written without mention of Wilson’s influence.

5) Al Davis (Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders)

What a legend. Some viewed Al Davis as a villain, others saw him as a visionary. Either way, his influence was immeasurable.

Davis was the Raiders’ head coach from 1963 through 1965 before serving as AFL commissioner in 1966. After a five-year run as the franchise’s general manager and part owner, Davis took over as principal owner in 1972 and held the title — along with GM responsibilities — until he died in 2011.

In addition to creating a winning product in Oakland, Davis also improved diversity in the NFL. He made Art Shell the second Black head coach in pro football history, and a decade prior hired Tom Flores, the first Hispanic coach in NFL history.

Not without his share of controversies, Davis’ football story is as complex as it is remarkable. But make no mistake: He’s an icon and one of the most important figures in NFL history.

4) Lamar Hunt (Kansas City Chiefs)

In 1959, Lamar Hunt led a small group that founded the AFL. Hunt served as owner of the Dallas Texans franchise, which relocated to Kansas City in 1963. He owned the Chiefs from that time until his death in 2006.

Those qualifications are more than enough to earn Hunt a top-five spot on this list, but his contributions to the NFL throughout his tenure further cement his legacy. Hunt also was among an initial group of investors who were instrumental in the founding of Major League Soccer in 1966. So, he was an influential figure for the other football, too.

3) Rooney Family (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Mara Family (New York Giants)

Is grouping these families an odd choice? Perhaps, but we just couldn’t rank one ahead of the other.

The Rooney Family has owned the Steelers since the franchise’s founding in 1933. The Mara Family has run the Giants since 1925. The two families have deep ties and are even related. For those unaware, actress Kate Mara is the great-granddaughter of both Giants founder Tim Mara and Steelers founder Arthur Rooney Sr.

But let’s stick to football. Both families were pivotal to the NFL’s rise in the 1920s and 30s and immense growth throughout the second half of the 20th Century. Wellington was especially important to the implementation of revenue sharing that allowed teams to split profits from TV contracts.

The Rooneys and Maras remain equally powerful today, serving as the old guard that protects the integrity of the NFL while keeping wild cards like Jones in check.

2) Paul Brown (Cincinnati Bengals)

Where to start?

First of all, Paul Brown was the first head coach of the Cleveland Browns and the reason they were named the Browns in the first place. He served as Cleveland’s head coach, part owner, and general manager from 1946 — when it was in the All-America Football Conference — until 1962. Brown left Cleveland after the 1963 season when he worked as vice president.

Then, in 1968, Brown became head and owner of the Cincinnati Bengals when they were added as an AFL expansion franchise. He stopped coaching after the 1975 campaign but was the Bengals’ owner until 1990.

Brown’s accomplishments off the field are numerous. However, he also changed the on-field product in significant ways. He invented the modern face mask, the practice squad, and the draw play. He also is credited with being the first coach to use game film to scout opponents. The list goes on and on.

1) George Halas (Chicago Bears)

Let’s just do some bull points.

  • Co-founder of the NFL.
  • Four separate stints as Bears head coach, including when they were founded in 1921.
  • Owned the Bears from 1921 until 1983.
  • Played offense and defense for the Bears for a decade.
  • Simultaneously served as a player, head coach, and owner throughout the 1920s.
  • One of the first inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963.
  • Revolutionized on-field formations and strategies.

So, yeah, George Halas needs to be No. 1. By the way, he also served in both World Wars and played for the New York Yankees in 1919.

Nicknamed “Papa Bear” and “Mr. Everything,” Halas is one of the most important figures in the history of U.S. professional sports and is the most influential owner in NFL history.

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