Category Archives: Pro Football Hall of Fame

FR: Pro Football Hall of Fame 2010 class

Each year on FootballRelativity.com, we compare the 17 Hall of Fame finalists in terms of whom we think should be elected. So here’s a look at this year’s contenders for enshrinement in Canton. (Here are links to a comparison of last year’s finalists, and thoughts on the class that was elected.)

Tim Brown – Wide Receiver/Kick Returner – 1988-2003 Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, 2004 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (first-time finalist)
Cris Carter – Wide Receiver – 1987-89 Philadelphia Eagles, 1990-2001 Minnesota Vikings, 2002 Miami Dolphins (repeat finalist)
Don Coryell – Coach – 1973-77 St. Louis Cardinals, 1978-1986 San Diego Chargers (eligible before but first-time finalist)
Roger Craig – Running Back – 1983-1990 San Francisco 49ers, 1991 Los Angeles Raiders, 1992-93 Minnesota Vikings (eligible before but first-time finalist)
Dermontti Dawson – Center – 1988-2000 Pittsburgh Steelers (repeat finalist)
Richard Dent – Defensive End – 1983-1993, 1995 Chicago Bears, 1994 San Francisco 49ers, 1996 Indianapolis Colts, 1997 Philadelphia Eagles (repeat finalist)
Russ Grimm – Guard – 1981-1991 Washington Redskins (repeat finalist)
Charles Haley – Defensive End/Linebacker – 1986-1991, 1999 San Francisco 49ers, 1992-96 Dallas Cowboys (eligible before but first-time finalist)
Rickey Jackson – Linebacker – 1981-1993 New Orleans Saints, 1994-95 San Francisco 49ers (eligible before but first-time finalist)
Cortez Kennedy – Defensive Tackle – 1990-2000 Seattle Seahawks (repeat finalist)
Dick LeBeau – Cornerback – 1959-1972 Detroit Lions (seniors candidate)
Floyd Little – Running Back – 1967-1975 Denver Broncos (seniors candidate)
John Randle – Defensive Tackle – 1990-2000 Minnesota Vikings, 2001-03 Seattle Seahawks (repeat finalist)
Andre Reed – Wide Receiver – 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000 Washington Redskins (repeat finalist)
Jerry Rice – Wide Receiver – 1985-2000 San Francisco 49ers, 2001-04 Oakland Raiders, 2004 Seattle Seahawks (first time eligible)
Shannon Sharpe – Tight End – 1990-99, 2002-03 Denver Broncos, 2000-01 Baltimore Ravens (first year eligible)
Emmitt Smith – Running Back – 1990-2002 Dallas Cowboys, 2003-04 Arizona Cardinals (first year eligible)

Let’s play relativity. 10 points will be an automatic yes vote, 1 point is someone who should not be a finalist again.
(By the way, all links to players are from the Pro Football Hall of Fame website, which is home to an incredible trove of research. Consider this a recommendation.)

10 – Jerry Rice – Two of the first-year eligible players are slam dunks. Rice is arguably the greatest player of all time at any position – I have no qualms about saying he’s the best I’ve seen with my own eyes. He was an unstoppable force on San Francisco’s dynastic teams of the 1980s and 90s, and he has ever receiving record ever imagined. He’s been a future Hall of Famer since halfway through his career, so his day will certainly come in Miami.

10 (con’t) – Emmitt Smith –  Smith isn’t in the list of the 10 best players ever like Rice is, but the league’s all-time leading rusher was a keystone of the Cowboys’ three Super Bowls in the 1990s and is an easy first-ballot choice. He was undoubtedly one of the top 2 backs of the 1990s (along with Barry Sanders), and his longevity and productivity are distinguishing figures for his career.

Note: Rice and Smith will certainly go in together as the highest profile names from the 2010 class. That leaves just three spots for the other 13 modern-day finalists, with seniors finalists Dick LeBeau and Floyd Little getting yea-or-nay votes on their own. Keep that in mind as you read the remaining profiles.

9 – Dick LeBeau – People today know LeBeau as the architect of the zone blitz defense and the defensive coordinator on many great defenses over much of the past two decades. But before he became a coach, LeBeau was a terrific cornerback for the Lions. With 62 career interceptions, he stands tied for seventh on the all-time list. LeBeau was a borderline Hall of Famer as a player, and his contributions as a coach will push him over the line to induction as a seniors candidate.

8 – Cris Carter – We said Carter should have gotten into the Hall of Fame last year, but the selection committee went for Art Monk instead. Carter still deserves induction, and if he misses out it will be because with Rice going in voters wanted to focus on other positions. Carter should get in, and he will someday. But we can’t say for sure that day will come this year because of the tight window for election.

7 – Richard Dent – Last year we pegged Dent (and seniors candidate Claude Humphrey) as the pass rusher who should get in. The late Derrick Thomas got in instead. Dent faces the test of being the third player from the great mid-1980s Bears defenses to get in (behind Mike Singletary and Dan Hampton), and that costs him support. But when you look at his sack numbers (137.5) compared to his era, it’s hard to say Dent doesn’t belong. He was a dominant, game-changing player and a Super Bowl MVP, which are both huge calling cards. It’ll be interesting to see whether he gets one of the two or three spots for modern candidates this year.

6 – Dermontti Dawson – We pushed for Dawson to make the Hall last year, but Randall McDaniel was the offensive lineman who got the nod. Now that McDaniel’s in Canton, Dawson should be the offensive lineman next in line. Dawson’s career wasn’t especially long, but the Steelers center was unquestionably the best center in the league during his prime, as his six straight All-Pro nods indicate. Dawson certainly merits induction over Grimm among this year’s protectors, and he should get in eventually. Perhaps this is his year.

6 (con’t) – Shannon Sharpe – Sharpe is the preeminent pass-catching tight end that is eligible for enshrinement at this point. But as a receiver, I’d put Sharpe behind Rice (obviously) and Carter in the receiver pecking order, but Sharpe is more deserving than former AFC West rival Tim Brown or Andre Reed. Sharpe needs to get in the Hall before guys like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates are on the Hall of Fame horizon, because I’m not sure he will beat those guys in the voting. Sharpe has a case to make it to Canton, but his chances this year slip a little bit because Rice and Carter appear to be in line ahead of him.

5 – Don Coryell – Coryell has been eligible for induction before, but this is the first time he’s reached the finalist level. That’s not surprising, considering his victory total as a head coach with the Cardinals and Chargers is just 114-89-1, far below an elite level. But Coryell is considered an offensive innovator, as his Air Coryell type of vertical attack inspired prominent coaches such as Mike Martz, Norv Turner, and others. That’s the reason Coryell could make it in – almost as a contributor and not just a coach. My sense is that Coryell could gather support in that vein and end up sneaking into the class in a final spot, kind of like Ralph Wilson did last year.

5 (con’t) – Floyd Little – Little is a fascinating Hall of Fame case. As a seniors candidate, he doesn’t have to contend with anyone else for a spot – he’s simply subject to an up-or-down vote by the committee. And the fact that seniors candidate have a better rate of success getting in bodes well for Little too. But Claude Humphrey missed from this position last year, and Little’s numbers (12,000 all-purpose yards including kick and punt returns but just 6,300 rushing yards) aren’t awe-inspiring. Maybe the fact that Little is an all-time great Bronco and that the Broncos are underrepresented in the Hall of Fame will get him in, or maybe whoever presents Little’s case has the kind of ammo that will spark his election. But it seems to me that he’s no better than a 50-50 shot to make it in.

4 – Russ Grimm – We’ve already talked a little bit about the Grimm options, but now let’s focus in on Grimm’s HOF chances. Last year, we rated Grimm behind Randall McDaniel on the guard list, and McDaniel got in. This year, Grimm has a bit of a better chance because the offensive line class isn’t as packed. I’d still favor Dawson over Grimm, but the fact that none of the Hogs from the Redskins’ 1980s lines has gotten in gives Grimm a shot. There are still some voters who favor Joe Jacoby over Grimm as a Hall of Famer from that group, but since Grimm has generally established his candidacy as the best of that group, he has a shot.

4 (con’t) – Charles Haley – Haley is another of the candidates in this year’s class who made it to finalist level for the first time after years on the preliminary ballot. That doesn’t seem to be a good omen for his election. The most sterling part of Haley’s resume is that he played for five Super Bowl champs (two in San Francisco and three in Dallas), but the fact that he was an all-pro both at defensive end and linebacker is just as impressive. He won NFC defensive player of the year honors in those two years (1990 in S.F. and 1994 in Dallas), and he made five total Pro Bowls. His sack total of 100.5 isn’t stunning compared to guys like Dent or Rickey Jackson, but the fact that he played so much time at linebacker without being in a 3-4 zone blitz system explains that a bit. We put Haley behind Dent on the list, and on first blush we’d support Jackson over him as well, but Haley’s role on dynastic teams gives him a better shot than Jackson has. That’s probably not enough to sneak into this year’s class, but Haley could start building support for induction in a year without Rice and Smith-level guys on the top of the ballot.

4 (con’t) – Cortez Kennedy – Last year we gave Kennedy virtually no chance of induction in his first year as a finalist, but it seems like the former Seahawks defensive tackle actually got more support than we expected. The durable former all-pro was defensive player of the year in 1992 and was an eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time all-pro. Kennedy still falls below our standard for induction, but we now believe he has a better shot than fellow defensive tackle John Randle of making it to Canton, even though Randle has gaudy sack numbers that Kennedy, a run-stuffer, never compiled.

3- Rickey Jackson – Jackson has a shockingly good resume, considering he’s been eligible for 10 years but has never before reached the finalist level. His sack numbers (128 not counting his rookie season, in which sacks were not an official statistic), aren’t as good as Dent’s, but Jackson played in an era before 3-4 outside linebackers were pure pass rushers. Instead, he was a complete player on some of Jim Mora’s terrific defenses, and he was the best of a linebacker corps that included Sam Mills. Jackson probably won’t go from first-time finalist to induction, but his presence on the list is a deserved honor, and he has an outside chance of building a candidacy over the coming years. For now, though, he’s behind Richard Dent and Charles Haley in line.

3 (con’t) – John Randle – Last year we gave Randle more of a shot than this, but it seems like Kennedy has gained more steam in his candidacy than Randle currently has. Randle was a terrific 4-3 under tackle for the Vikings and Seahawks, and he used his slashing skills to pile up 137.5 sacks. That number compares favorably with Haley, which could help him in this year’s class, but the fact that Randle too often came off as a one-dimensional player hurts his cause. He’s been a finalist both years he’s been eligible, which means he has a shot to make it in, but the sense here is that he still has a wait before that happens – if it ever does.

3 (con’t) – Andre Reed – Reed finished his career with 951 receptions, which puts him sixth all-time, and he was the best receiver on the terrific Bills teams of the 1990s. But like Tim Brown, Reed was never among the best two or three receivers in the league. He never was a first-team All-Pro, although he did make seven Pro Bowls. That puts him behind Carter and Sharpe and of course Rice in the receiver pecking order when it comes to a place in Canton. I do give Reed a razor-thin edge over Brown, but to me that’s more of a decision for who should remain a finalist instead of a call about who should actually be elected.

2 – Tim Brown – Besides Rice and Smith, Brown is the only other first-time eligible to make it to finalist status. But it’s hard for me to see Brown as a Hall of Famer. The long-time Raider (and cameo Buccaneer) had nearly 15,000 receiving yards, which puts him up the list, but there was rarely a time when Brown was one of the best two or three receivers in the game. The fact that he was never a first-team All-Pro (voted as one of the top two wideouts in the league) bears this view out. Instead, guys like Rice and Carter (early in Brown’s prime) and Randy Moss easily outpaced Brown. Brown strikes me as a compiler, and to me that puts him behind not only Rice but also Carter and even Reed in this year’s class. In this year with election spots extra tight and the receiver spot so well represented among the finalists, there’s no way Brown gets in. But even if Brown were the only receiver among the finalists, I’d have a hard time supporting his induction. He belongs in the hall of the very good, not among the game’s ultra-elite in the Hall of Fame.

1 – Roger Craig – Craig is another long-time eligible player who finally crossed the border into the realm of finalists. Craig was the running back on the 49ers’ 1980s dynastic teams, and his ability to both run the ball and catch it out of the backfield made him a perfect fit there. Craig was the first player to total 1,000 yards both rushing and receiving in the same year back in 1985, and he made the Pro Bowl both as a running back and a fullback. His role on three Super Bowl winners is admirable, but the truth is that Craig fell well below Joe Montana and Jerry Rice in significance on those teams. Making the group of finalists means that Craig will be remembered for his fine play, but he fell below Hall of Fame level in his career. The reality is that he’ll probably be fortunate to make the list of finalists again after this year.

So what’s our prediction: There are three gimmes in the class – Rice, Smith, and LeBeau. To that we’ll add three more names – Dent, Carter, and Coryell in an upset instead of Dawson, who deserves the sixth spot. We’ll see how this outlandish prediction does on the Saturday before the Super Bowl.

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Football Relativity, outlandish prediction, Pro Football Hall of Fame

A tale of two QBs

In this week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, most of the NFL talk hasn’t focused on the Pro Bowl. Instead, two quarterbacks have made the biggest headlines. One is trying to get into the NFL; the other may be done in the league. Here are our thoughts on Tim Tebow and Kurt Warner.

Warner, who will reportedly announce his retirement on Friday, leaves the NFL at the top of his game. His career has as much distance between the peaks and valleys as just about anyone in the league. He was undrafted and had to go to the Arena Football League to earn a shot in St. Louis because of an injury to Trent Green. He then became a two-time MVP with the Rams, leading the high-octane “Greatest Show on Turf” offense to two Super Bowls and one Lombardi trophy. But a broken hand hampered him and sent him to the bench in St. Louis in 2002 and then for good in 2003, leading to a lull in his career. He went to the Giants as a placeholder for rookie Eli Manning and then went to Arizona, where he had two so-so seasons as a part-time starter before hitting his stride again late in 2007. But he ended his season with two fantastic seasons in ’08 and ’09, leading Arizona to two NFC West titles, four playoff wins, and the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance. Warner has the three biggest passing-yardage games in Super Bowl history and leaves with a sterling reputation for clutch play. The question as Warner leaves is not whether he had a great career; that is certain. It’s whether he’s a Hall of Famer. His unlikely and unique career path makes that a huge question that will likely be debated for many years. He’s not a first-ballot guy, but he may well make it to Canton because his best was truly at the elite level. But his storybook career deserves admiration, and it was fun and fascinating to watch.

As Warner leaves, Tim Tebow (like Warner a great leader and a very religious person) enters the NFL. His Senior Bowl practices have been less than stellar, as his questionable mechanics have been revealed as an unquestioned problem. Tebow has a force of personality that’s evident in every team interaction, interview, and meeting with coaches, and he has physical skills and abilities that definitely bring notice. But he’s just not sharp enough throwing the ball. It’s remarkable to me that Tebow could spend four years at Florida and not develop much at all as a passer yet still have such success, but now he appears to be more and more of a project as a quarterback. Is he a first-round pick for April’s draft? Chances are he is, because some owner will fall in love with Tebow and his ticket-selling potential, which is once again on display in Mobile this week. But I’m becoming ever more skeptical that Tebow can develop into a solid starting NFL quarterback. Part of me hopes I’m wrong, because it’s impossible not to like or at least respect the guy, but being a good guy is no guarantor of being a good NFL quarterback.

Leave a comment

Filed under Football Relativity, NFL draft, NFL Free Agency, NFL playoffs, Pro Football Hall of Fame, Super Bowl

Grimm options

You never know what random thoughts might go through my mind…

I’ve started working on our comparison of Hall of Fame finalists – that post is coming in the next couple of weeks – and this thought came to mind. Does Russ Grimm have a better chance of making the Hall of Fame or of getting the Bills head coaching job?

Grimm is a Hall of Fame finalist once again. He’s been eligible for the Hall for 14 years, and the fact that he still gets finalist consideration means that he’s not a lost cause. In fact, at this point Grimm is the most likely enshrinee from the Redskins’ old Hogs offensive line that keyed the franchise’s success in the 1980s. Plus, with only two offensive linemen as finalists this year (Grimm and Steelers C Dermontti Dawson), his path may be just a tick easier this year.

Meanwhile, Grimm is also a head-coaching candidate. He spent many years on Bill Cowher’s Steelers staffs before moving with Ken Whisenhunt to Arizona after being passed over as Cowher’s replacement. Grimm has been a candidate in the past, and he seems to be getting pretty strong consideration in Buffalo. In fact, the question right now appears to be whether Grimm wants to interview with the Bills. He seems skeptical, but knowing what Whisenhunt has done with a previously moribund franchise in Arizona should encourage Grimm that Buffalo isn’t a hopeless situation.

With these two possibilities – the Bills job and the Hall of Fame – January could be a very interesting month for Grimm, even with his Cardinals team knocked out of the playoffs.

4 Comments

Filed under Football Relativity, NFL coaches, Pro Football Hall of Fame

How great is Favre, really?

My brother Kam sent me an interesting link this week that tried to argue that Brett Favre is even better than we think. Basically, this blogger argues that Brett Favre’s career interception percentage of 3.3 percent is much better than most of the QBs in the Hall of Fame — thus undercutting the big argument against Favre as an all-time great.

It’s an interesting theory, but as my brother and I discussed it, we quickly came to the conclusion that there’s an era gap here that the blogger tried to gloss over. Current-era Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Dan Marino, John Elway, Joe Montana, and Steve Young are all below Favre in terms of interception percentage. Only Warren Moon and Jim Kelly (both of whom started in the NFL about five years before Favre) are above him in this stat.

And as we look at the career passer rating list, this change in eras bears out. Favre is just 18th on this list, behind many the great QBs of the eras in which he’s played — Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Steve Young, Joe Montana, Drew Brees, and Dan Marino. Meanwhile, the only QB from before the Bill Walsh era in the top 20 is Otto Graham, who is an all-time great who always seems to get lost in the discussion.

So while the interception stat doesn’t tell us much about Favre in the end, it does indicate how much the game changed when Bill Walsh came on the scene as a head coach around 1980. (We’d say that the Walsh era began with the Niners’ first Super Bowl win in the 1981 season.)

Kam said this in the discussion…
Most people think of interception stats vis-a-vis the TD to interception ratio.  nteresting here to consider it as pass attempts to interception, although I wonder what Favre’s completion rate in general is compared to other QBs with comparable yardage and TDs. You’re right that completion rate and TD-interception ratio would be skewed now in the post West-coast era. Fewer and fewer QBs who can actually throw the ball down the field. 

 In my mind, I still don’t see Favre on the same level as modern standout QBs like Peyton, Brady or Drew Brees (potentially Matt Ryan). You can’t help but admire Favre’s passion, but he has lost his teams many games, too, with his cavalier approach to the quarterback position. Might be the difference between one and three Super Bowl wins.    
 
So where do we compare Favre among the great quarterbacks of his era (1992-on)? I’d put the following guys above Favre:
*John Elway
*Steve Young (won his Super Bowl in the Favre era)
*Peyton Manning
*Tom Brady
*Troy Aikman (this one is close, because Aikman never piled up monster numbers, but the three Super Bowls vs. one makes the difference)
 
I’m reserving judgment today on Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees. They’re too young right now to say where their careers will truly end up.
 
I’d put Favre before Warren Moon, Donovan McNabb, and Kurt Warner, though Warner and McNabb could pass Favre with huge late-career spikes.
I’m not considering Joe Montana, Dan Marino, or Jim Kelly in Favre’s era, because they were more 1980s guys than 90s guys.
 
That makes Favre a great quarterback but not among the top-5 quarterbacks ever. In fact, when you add in old-timers like Otto Graham and others, Favre would have to push to make the top 10. That doesn’t diminish his greatness, but it does show that his numbers – even his interception numbers – don’t tell the whole story.

Leave a comment

Filed under Football Relativity, Pro Football Hall of Fame, research project

Glover’s day in more ways than one

On the day that Lucas Glover won golf’s U.S. Open, another Glover – longtime NFL DT La’Roi Glover – retired. Here are some thoughts on his career; you can see how his retirement compares to others this offseason in this post.

Glover was a 6-time Pro Bowler who developed into the perfect under-tackler in the 4-3 defense. He had a slashing style that allowed him to rush the passer and make big plays, while a bigger tackle played the gaps and provided the stoutness against the run. The crazy thing is that Glover spent his rookie year with the Raiders as a fifth-round pick but was then cut. He landed with the Saints, and there he developed into a Pro Bowl player in 2000 and ’01. He took a big-money deal in Dallas in 2002 and rewarded the Cowboys with four straight Pro Bowl seasons. He then finished his career in St. Louis. Glover’s career arc falls short of Hall of Fame status – John Randle was a similar and better player than Glover – but with 83.5 sacks, he was undoubtedly one of the preeminent pass-rushing defensive tackles of his day.

Leave a comment

Filed under Football Relativity, NFL Free Agency, Pro Football Hall of Fame

FR: Hall of Fame presenters

The presenters for this year’s Hall of Fame class have been announced, so I thought it might be interesting to compare them using Football Relativity. Here they are, with 10 being the presenter I’m most interested in hearing and 1 being the presenter I’m least interested in hearing.

(If you want my thoughts on the class, you can see how I predicted the finalists would play out here and my thoughts of who was elected here.)

10 – Roger Staubach (presenting Cowboys WR Bob Hayes) – I’m not a lifelong Cowboys fan, but I know that Staubach is a legend not only in Dallas but across the league. He’ll provide a sense of perspective about why the late Hayes deserves enshrinement in Canton. He’s the only Hall of Famer on the presenter list, which is worth noting as well. He’ll add a touch of class and extra esteem to these proceedings.

9 – none

8 – O.K. Fulton (presenting Vikings OG Randall McDaniel) – McDaniel chose Fulton, his high school athletic director and assistant principal, to present him for induction. I’ve never heard of Fulton before, but I admire this choice because it affirms an educator who chose to invest in McDaniel and serve as a coach or mentor. Who knows – Fulton could end up stealing the show in Canton with his speech.

7 – Carl Peterson (presenting Chiefs OLB Derrick Thomas) – Thomas’ family chose Peterson, the Chiefs’ long-time president and general manager, to present him for induction. Peterson will have all sorts of stories from Thomas’ time with the Chiefs – he’s probably one of the few guys who was in Kansas City throughout the Thomas era. And as someone who has interviewed Peterson, I can tell you that he has one of the best voices around as well. Good stories + a deep baritone = a great induction speech.

6 – none

5 – Ted Cottrell (presenting Bills DE Bruce Smith) – Cottrell, a long-time NFL assistant coach who was Smith’s first position coach and later his defensive coordinator. He should have great insight on what made Smith great and what Smith was like when he entered the league, and that should be interesting.

4 – none

3- Tracy Foster (presenting Steelers DB Rod Woodson) – Foster, a childhood friend of Woodson’s, was a former college basketball player who now runs Woodson’s car dealership. He seems like a strange choice, but hopefully the childhood friendship will shine through in Foster’s speech. If that happens, we could learn some fun stories about Woodson in the process.

2 –

1 – Chris Berman (presenting Bills owner Ralph Wilson) – Berman has been on ESPN since the beginning, but his shtick has grown over the years to the point where he’s now all style and no substance. (I could say he’s overrated, but I don’t have to, because PFW already did.) I hope that this speech will be marked by historical perspective and subtlety, but I’m afraid that Berman will make it all about himself, like he does with most of the other stuff he does on TV nowadays. I don’t understand why Wilson would not have chosen Marv Levy or another great Bills player to present him for induction. (The late Jack Kemp or even the late Tim Russert, perhaps the Bills’ most famous fan, would have been great as well.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Football Relativity, Pro Football Hall of Fame

FR: 2009 retirements

This offseason, like the last two, has been filled with a Brett Favre will-he-or-won’t-he retirement dance.  But Favre’s retirement (even if it’s temporary) isn’t the only notable one of the offseason. So we thought we’d play relativity with the various NFL retirements of the offseason. We’re comparing them on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the most important retirement and 1 being the least notable. We’ll update this post until the beginning of the ’09 season.

10 – Head coach Tony Dungy, Colts – After an unbelievable run of success in Tampa Bay and Indianapolis, Dungy decided to leave the coaching ranks. He will be missed, both for his stately presence and for his coaching prowess. Dungy revitalized a Buccaneers franchise that was completely moribund, getting them to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years and guiding them to the NFC championship game. He was fired, but the foundation he built eventually won a Super Bowl. Dungy then went to Indianapolis, where he won 10 games his first year and at least 12 games for the next six years,  a remarkable run of success that crescendoed with a Super Bowl title in the 2006 season. Beyond his success, he (along with longtime defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin) is the progenitor of the Tampa-2 defense that spread throughout the league, as well as the root of a significant coaching tree. His departure will hurt the Colts – pretty significantly, we think – but the NFL needs him to stay in the public eye enough to be the conscience of football as well. If this is the end of a coaching career, Dungy did enough to merit Hall of Fame induction.

9 – John Madden – The most iconic NFL analyst of the last two generations finally hung up his headset this offseason. Madden had become a bit of a caricature, but his performance this year (especially in the Super Bowl) was still top notch. He revealed what’s inside the game better than any analyst before had, and his off-kilter (and often off-subject) musings always added humor to the proceedings. His successful second career — remember, he was a Super Bowl winning coach with the Raiders — now comes to a close. But he still has a third career as a video game impressario, and his Madden NFL franchise isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. All in all, Madden is in the Hall of Fame with good reason, and the sum of his career is unlike any we’ve ever seen.

8 – QB Brett Favre, Jets – Favre’s repeated retirement dine-and-dash routine has worn thin, which is why we can’t rate his retirement as the most significant of the offseason. (That, plus the fact that might unretire once more.) Yes, Favre has had a wonderful career, but his 2008 campaign ended ignominiously. His legacy will always be his numbers and his chance-taking, but it won’t be spit-shined and gleaming because he has so little regard for it. Favre is still a Hall of Famer one day, but he’d be better off to go ahead and let the five-year waiting period for Canton start (and stay) ticking. (UPDATE: No surprise: Favre didn’t stay retired.)

7 – Head coach Mike Holmgren, Seahawks – Holmgren spent 17 years as a head coach in Green Bay and Seattle, and his teams were usually among the league’s best. He won a Super Bowl in Green Bay and went to another, then made a third trip to the title game with the Seahawks. More impressively, he won eight division titles (three in Green Bay, five in Seattle) and 12 playoff appearances. That’s a really good batting average. Holmgren was a disciple of Bill Walsh whose first staff in Green Bay included a litany of coaches including Jon Gruden, Steve Mariucci, Andy Reid, Dick Jauron, and Ray Rhodes, all of whom would become NFL head coaches. That’s another impressive part of his legacy. Holmgren then moved from Green Bay to Seattle for more authority – he served as head coach, general manager, team vice president, and a couple more titles that filled his business card and made me write at PFW that he had gotten every title this side of Miss Seattle. It wasn’t until he lost some of that power that his Seahawks really hit their stride. I don’t know if I can call his coaching career Hall of Fame worthy, but it’s close. Holmgren will likely return to the league in some capacity, perhaps as soon as 2010, but his retirement is worth noting at this point in case it sticks.

7 (con’t) – SS Rodney Harrison, Patriots – Harrison retired after a 15-year career that approached Hall of Fame level despite starting on the practice squad. While most people think of Harrison’s role on New England’s back-to-back championship teams earlier this decade, he actually broke into the NFL as a fifth-round pick out of Western Illinois with the Chargers. On a San Diego team with a horrible offense (do you remember Craig Whelihan at quarterback?), Harrison partnered with Junior Seau to anchor the No. 1 defense in the league in 1998.  (I wrote a feature on Seau and Harrison following that season and learned a lot about Harrison’s story when I interviewed him for that piece.) That was an impressive accomplishment for a player who left college early because his family needed the money (which wasn’t that much) he got as a signing bonus for being a fifth-round pick, only to get cut and have to spend much of his first year on the practice squad. He emerged as a playmaking safety with a nasty, physical edge. He made two Pro Bowls and was first-team All Pro twice in San Diego (’98 and ’01) before moving onto New England in 2003, when he got a higher national profile for bringing his same hard-nosed game to a periennial contender. Harrison ended his career as the only player in league history with at least 30 sacks and 30 interceptions. He notched seven playoff interceptions in his career, a Patriots team record. He also was voted the NFL’s dirtiest player by competitors in 2004 and by league coaches in 2008, and he was fined many times for various hits over his career. Wikipedia even claims that Harrison has the league record for personal-foul penalties, although that is unsubstantiated.  But Harrison’s last four years were injury plagued and also included a suspension for purchasing HGH, and it was probably time for him to hang them up. The fact that he can move straight into the NBC Football Night in America studio made the decision easier. Harrison may not end up as a Hall of Fame player, but his long career as an impact player should at least get him to the finalist level of voting at some point, and that’s a quality resume for a former fifth-round pick.

6 – C Tom Nalen, Broncos – Nalen was the center on Denver’s Super Bowl teams of the 1990s, and he ended up spending 15 seasons in the NFL, all in Denver. The five-time Pro Bowler was never the top center in the league, but he was often among the top 4 or 5, which is quite an accomplishment. Think about how many different running backs had good seasons in Denver, and you’ll think about part of Nalen’s impressive legacy. He wasn’t massive, but he had the quickness to thrive in long-time OL coach Alex Gibbs’ scheme. He’ll get some Hall of Fame consideration eventually, although enshrinement is a long shot. But he will certainly find his name in the Broncos’ Ring of Fame as one of the team’s all-time greats.

6 (con’t) – OT Willie Anderson, Ravens – Anderson never got a wealth of publicity in his career, in large part because he was stuck in Cincinnati for 12 years. But Anderson excelled as a mauling run blocker on the right side for the vast majority of his career. He made four Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro three times (’04-’06). He spent his final season as a starter in Baltimore. In all, he started more than 180 games, which is impressive longevity on the line. Like Nalen, another ’09 retiree, Anderson will get Hall of Fame consideration, but my guess is that he’ll ultimately fall short. But Anderson leaves a legacy as one of the Bengals’ all-time greats.

6 (con’t) – DT La’Roi Glover, Rams – Glover was a 6-time Pro Bowler who developed into the perfect under-tackler in the 4-3 defense. He had a slashing style that allowed him to rush the passer and make big plays, while a bigger tackle played the gaps and provided the stoutness against the run. The crazy thing is that Glover spent his rookie year with the Raiders as a fifth-round pick but was then cut. He landed with the Saints, and there he developed into a Pro Bowl player in 2000 and ’01. He took a big-money deal in Dallas in 2002 and rewarded the Cowboys with four straight Pro Bowl seasons. He then finished his career in St. Louis. Glover’s career arc falls short of Hall of Fame status – John Randle was a similar and better player than Glover – but with 83.5 sacks, he was undoubtedly one of the preeminent pass-rushing defensive tackles of his day.

6 (con’t) – LB Tedy Bruschi, Patriots – Bruschi, who entered the league as a third-round pick and an undersized linebacker from Arizona, became one of the iconic players in New England’s Super Bowl era. He made just two Pro Bowls in his 13-year career, but he was a determined playmaker on all three of New England’s Super Bowl champs. He was also one of the few links between New England’s ’96 Super Bowl appearance and the glory years of the 2000s. Even more, he overcame a stroke in 2005 and returned to the field to play three more seasons. Bruschi will get some Hall of Fame consideration, but in our eyes he’s just below that level, even considering his significant contributions to the best team of the decade. But he still had a wonderful career all in one place, which is a sterling legacy to leave.

5 – Offensive coordinator Tom Moore and OL coach Howard Mudd, Colts – Mudd had been an NFL assistant for 35 years and Moore for 32 before they both retired this offseason because of a pension-related issue this offseason. (This pension issue is one to watch, and it could force more long-time assistants into retirement or the college ranks.) Mudd, a three-time Pro Bowl lineman himself in the 1960s, spent the last 12 years as a Colts assistant, and his teaming with Moore on Dungy’s staff was hugely successful. Part of Mudd’s legacy will be the strong lines he had with undrafted players (most notably Jeff Saturday) playing major roles. Moore’s recent success was his ability to work with Peyton Manning, but he was also a coordinator in Pittsburgh and Detroit and an assistant head coach in Minnesota. It will be interesting to see if the Colts can continue their offensive success without Moore and Mudd, or with them as consultants and not full-timers. All this continues the upheaval on the Colts’ staff this offseason after years of consistency.

5 (con’t) – QB Trent Green, Rams – Green is the ultimate what-if guy in the last decade of NFL play. What if he hadn’t gotten hurt before the 1999 season? Would the Rams still have become the greatest show on turf? Would Kurt Warner have ever gotten a chance? Or would Green be remembered as one of the better rags-to-riches stories in league history? Entering that ’99 season, Green had started just one year in Washington, and because of Warner’s emergence, Green got a Super Bowl ring but only five more starts before he finally got his chance as a full-time starter in Kansas City in 2001. Green started 5 1/2 years for the Chiefs, leading two playoff runs and putting up big numbers, before a string of concussions forced him out of the starters’ role. He got a handful more starts in Miami and one back in St. Louis, but his inability to stay on the field scuttled his career. Despite his star-crossed journey, Green established himself as an above-average NFL starter who made two Pro Bowls. That’s a pretty good legacy to leave with.

5 (con’t) – OT John Tait, Bears – Tait played 10 years with the Chiefs and Bears and was a starter throughout, but nagging injuries eventually prompted him to retire this offseason. Tait played both left and right tackle during his career, and he was good enough on the left side to make the Pro Bowl as a Chief in ’01 and as a Bear in ’06. Tait was never an elite player, but he was a quality starter throughout his tenure and deserves credit for quite a credible career.

4 – CB Duane Starks, Raiders- Starks was the 10th overall pick in the 1998 draft, and he ended up being a starting corner on the great Ravens defenses for four years. He never quite reached shut-down corner level, as his teammate Chris McAlister did, but he was a solid starter. He had six interceptions during Baltimore’s championship  season and added a pick-6 in Baltimore’s Super Bowl win. Starks left Baltimore for Arizona in 2002, and he bounced to New England and then Oakland after that, with injuries wreaking havoc all along the way. With 25 career interceptions, Starks had a notable career that didn’t reach greatness. But he can be proud of what he accomplished over the last 11 years.

4 (con’t) – LB Dan Morgan, Saints – Morgan was the Panthers’ first-round pick (11th overall) in 2001, and he was part of the core that helped turn the franchise around leading up to the franchise’s lone Super Bowl appearance. Morgan, Kris Jenkins, and Steve Smith were part of a draft class that revitalized the team. But injuries held Morgan back throughout his career, starting in his rookie season when he injured his leg on a Charlotte field so bad that chunks were coming out of it. He made just one Pro Bowl (2004), in large part because injuries and a series of concussions kept him out of action so often. He never played in more than 13 games in a season, and he saw action just four times since 2005. He spent the last two offseasons with the Saints but never saw game action. While his career stats aren’t eyepopping, he does have one unforgettable line on his stat sheet — his Super Bowl performance against the Patriots. He was credited with 18 tackles in the game book, but Panthers coaches tallied 25 stops that Morgan made. He ends up with a good career that could have been truly memorable had injuries and concussions not taken their toll. (More on Morgan’s rookie season in this post.)

4 (con’t) – C Jeremy Newberry, Falcons – Newberry was a long-time 49er who played a total of 10 years in the league. While he never got great acclaim, he earned two Pro Bowl berths and was the centerpiece of the San Francisco O-line for half a decade. He spent a year with the Raiders and Chargers and had signed with the Falcons for ’09 before injuries caused him to call it quits instead. Regardless of what caused him to leave, he goes into his post-football life with a solid on-field legacy.

3 – OT Todd Weiner, Falcons – Weiner played 11 years with the Seahawks and Falcons, remaining a regular starter until getting part-time play this year. The Falcons wanted to keep him, but Weiner decided that 116 starts and more than 150 games was enough for him to call it a satisfying career.

3 (con’t) – CB Fernando Bryant, Steelers – Bryant, a former Jaguars first-round pick, spent five years in Jacksonville and four in Detroit as a starter, but last year he was cut by New England in the preseason and played in just two games with Pittsburgh, none in the postseason. Still, he retires with more than 100 career starts, seven career interceptions, and a Super Bowl ring he won last year. He ended up playing up to his first-round draft status, and that’s something to be proud of.

3 (con’t) – WR Drew Bennett, Ravens – Bennett had one fantastic year in Tennessee back in 2004, and he was productive in the two following years as well. But after signing a mega-deal in St. Louis, Bennett was hamstrung by injuries and ended up with just 34 catches in two years. Had he been healthy, Bennett would have provided the Ravens at least a competent vet who will provide some assurance to an offense that would have otherwise had to rely solely on Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams. But Bennett was not healthy, and after just a day of workouts, he retired. He leaves the league as a solid NFL starter who had some disappointments but some high points as well. That’s not a bad legacy.

3 (con’t) – DE Kenechi Udeze, Vikings – Udeze, a former first-round pick out of USC, played just three full seasons with Minnesota, all as a starter, and had just 11 career sacks. His career was cut short by leukemia, which caused him to sit out in 2008 and then to retire after a comeback attempt just before training camps started in 2009. It’s sad to see a career cut short by cancer like this, but if a football career is all Udeze loses in this battle, that’s still a win in the broad view.

3 (con’t) OT Marvel Smith, 49ers – Smith, who signed with the 49ers in the offseason to try to recover his career, instead had to retire due to a bad back. The long-time Pittsburgh Steeler, who was a Pro Bowl player at left tackle when the Steelers won Super Bowl 40, started 108 games over his nine years in Pittsburgh, but he had to go to the bench last season after the first five games because of his troublesome back. He leaves the game with two Super Bowl rings and a solid tenure as a Steeler.

2 – OT Todd Wade, Jaguars – Wade hardly played last year, but he started 96 games over his career with the Dolphins, Texans, and Redskins. He was never among the best tackles, but he was a solid starter, which is saying something.

1 – TE Chad Mustard, Broncos – Mustard only had 12 career catches over five seasons, but his unique name and even more unique backstory led to this unbelievably good headline and story by Darin Gantt of the Rock Hill Herald.

8 Comments

Filed under Football Relativity, NFL coaches, NFL Free Agency, Pro Football Hall of Fame