Seven new members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be enshrined on Saturday night, and Randy Moss’s retirement this week brought a new round of debate about what, exactly, constitutes a Hall of Famer. So now seems like a good time to revisit something we looked at a year ago: Who are the likely inductees in the Hall of Fame classes of 2012 and beyond?
Here’s our year-by-year breakdown of what each Hall of Fame class might look like.
Newly eligible: Tiki Barber, Bill Cowher, Bill Parcells, Will Shields, Rod Smith
This will be a good year for players who have been snubbed in the past to get in, as Shields is probably the only player who has any real chance of being a first-ballot inductee.
Shields, the longtime guard for the Kansas City Chiefs, never missed a game in 14 seasons and was selected to the Pro Bowl 12 times. If he doesn’t get in on the first ballot, the selection committee might as well just say guards can’t get in on their first try.
Jerome Bettis and Curtis Martin were passed over for induction this year, and they’d have to be considered ahead of Barber next year. We mention Barber here mostly to note that he’ll be newly eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2012 — unless he makes an NFL roster this year, in which case he wouldn’t be eligible for the Hall of Fame until at least 2017.
Smith was a good receiver for the Broncos, but the three wide receivers who were voted down in 2011 – Andre Reed, Tim Brown and Cris Carter – would all seem to have a better chance than Smith of getting enshrined in 2012.
Several other players voted down this year, including Willie Roaf, Dermontti Dawson, Chris Doleman, Charles Haley and Cortez Kennedy, will likely make the list of 15 finalists in 2012.
And then there are Cowher and Parcells. Assuming neither of them return to coaching, 2012 is the year they’ll be eligible for induction. With a career record of 161-99-1 and a Super Bowl ring, Cowher would have a solid case. Parcells, who last coached in 2006, will also become eligible in 2012, and he has even better Hall of Fame credentials than Cowher, with 183 wins and two Super Bowl rings. But Parcells has been eligible before (during previous “retirements”) and voted down before.
Finally, 2012 may feature a major debate about the Hall of Fame candidacy of former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. When Tagliabue has been voted down in the past, some have argued that while he oversaw labor peace during his own tenure, the last Collective Bargaining Agreement he negotiated didn’t ensure labor peace in the long run. Now the selection committee can take a fresh look at Tagliabue’s case, in light of the new labor deal reached after the owners opted out of Tagliabue’s CBA.
The 2012 class won’t be a great one, but that’s a good thing for players like Reed, Brown, Carter, Martin and Bettis, as it gives them a good opportunity to be voted up next year after they were voted down this year.
Newly eligible: Larry Allen, Morten Andersen, Priest Holmes, Steve McNair, Jonathan Ogden, Warren Sapp, Michael Strahan, Bryant Young
It’s a crowded field of candidates in 2013, and the best bet is probably Strahan, who owns the single-season sack record and finished his career on top with a Super Bowl victory in his final game. Strahan likely gets in ahead of his fellow defensive linemen Sapp and Young.
On the offensive line, both Allen and Ogden are worthy candidates, with Allen a little more likely to be inducted in his first year of eligibility. Both Allen and Ogden are 11-time Pro Bowlers, and those are the kinds of credentials offensive linemen need to get into the Hall, but Allen probably gets in before Ogden.
Holmes put up great rushing numbers but is probably a long shot considering that more qualified running backs in Bettis and Martin were voted down.
Andersen is a tough case. Only one pure kicker, Jan Stenerud, is in the Hall of Fame, and although Andersen certainly has a strong case as the NFL’s all-time leading scorer, no kicker can ever be viewed as a lock for the Hall. It’s worth noting that one of the biggest annual Hall of Fame arguments revolves around punter Ray Guy, who hasn’t been inducted but frequently makes the list of finalists.
McNair is an even tougher case. The circumstances of his death shouldn’t play any part in the discussion of whether he had a Hall of Fame career, but it could affect how some voters think about him. Based purely on what he did on the field, McNair is a borderline case, a three-time Pro Bowler and one-time league MVP who led his team to one Super Bowl.
Newly eligible: Tony Dungy, Marvin Harrison
If Dungy doesn’t return to coaching, 2014 is the year he’ll start to get consideration, and he has an excellent case: He won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts and took over a perennial doormat Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise and led them to the playoffs four times in his six seasons.
Harrison was one of Dungy’s best players with the Colts and will probably get into the Hall, having led the league in catches twice and receiving yards twice, although the Hall of Fame voters showed by voting down Cris Carter and Tim Brown that they’re not always swayed by big receiving numbers.
The 2014 class doesn’t have many strong first-year candidates, which is good news for players who have been bypassed in previous years. This will be the year that some of the players passed over in the past (like Carter and Brown) finally make it.
Newly eligible: Isaac Bruce, Edgerrin James, Walter Jones, Ty Law, Kevin Mawae, Orlando Pace, Junior Seau, Kurt Warner
Looking back on Warner’s career, the whole thing just seems impossible – he may never even have gotten a chance if Trent Green hadn’t suffered a knee injury during the 1999 preseason, both the Rams and Giants gave up on him, and even the Cardinals thought he’d be nothing more than a backup to Matt Leinart. But considering that he won a Super Bowl and played in two more, won two league MVP awards, and was the best quarterback in football from 1999 through 2001 and among the best from 2007 through 2009, he belongs in the Hall.
Seau also belongs; he was one of the best linebackers in football during his prime, and his longevity was incredible: Seau was the oldest non-kicker in the NFL in his final season.
Jones and Pace were the two best offensive tackles of their generation and are both worthy, although coming up against each other in 2015, they might split the vote among selection committee members who disagree about which one was the best at his position. I’d give Pace the nod if I could only pick one.
Law was one of the best defensive backs of his era and always stepped up at the most important times: Peyton Manning is already on record having offered to present Law for Hall of Fame induction, based largely on how many times Law picked Manning off in big games.
Mawae was an eight-time Pro Bowl center who started 238 games over 16 seasons for the Seahawks, Jets and Titans. But considering how tough it’s been for an even better center — Dermontti Dawson — to get voted into the Hall of Fame, Mawae is a long shot.
Bruce is third all-time in receiving yards, behind only Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens, but that may not be enough to get him in the Hall. Racking up big receiving numbers doesn’t seem to impress the selection committee.
James probably won’t get in, but he’s at least worth considering as a four-time Pro Bowler who twice led the league in rushing.
Newly eligible: Brett Favre, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens
If Favre, Moss and Owens are all done in the NFL (and they might not be — Favre and Moss could still change their minds, and Owens claims his torn ACL will heal sufficiently that he can play this season) they’ll all come up for Hall of Fame consideration in 2016.
Favre is a lock: His last season was a mess, but he deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest football players of all time.
Moss and Owens are tough cases. The debate about Moss’s Hall of Fame merits has already started, and there will be a similar debate about Owens. Both guys did some incredible things on the field, but both also wore out their welcomes on multiple teams and were ultimately considered more trouble than they were worth. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Hall of Fame selection committee puts them both in Canton the first year they’re eligible, but it also wouldn’t be surprising if neither one of them gets in.
If nothing else, these three would certainly give us an interesting trio of induction speeches. If Favre, Moss and Owens are all on the stage together in Canton in 2016, we advise you to get your popcorn ready.