The list of modern-era nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2014 was announced Wednesday on NFL Network, starting a process that will culminate in New York before Super Bowl XLVIII with the announcement of the class.
In the meantime, let's speculate on what players have the best chance of getting there. There are 16 first-year-eligible nominees on the total list of 126 names. Here's a breakdown:
Hall of Famers
Marvin Harrison, Walter Jones and Derrick Brooks
The only question is when these guys are getting in. My guess is that Harrison and Jones will make it in their first year of eligibility. Jones is one of the best left tackles to ever play the game. Harrison quietly had an eight-year stretch of dominance catching balls from Peyton Manning.
Brooks might have to wait one year or two. Michael Strahan's exclusion from the 2013 class was a reminder that plenty of all-time greats have to wait. Brooks wasn't quite as dominant a player at his peak as some Hall of Famers, but it only should be a matter of time before he is enshrined with longtime teammate Warren Sapp.
The one-ring coaches club
Tony Dungy, Mike Holmgren and Jon Gruden
All three coaches own one Super Bowl ring as a head coach, and they got close other times. Gruden doesn't nearly have the track record to be seriously considered, and he'll probably wind up back on the sideline.
Dungy and Holmgren both have strong cases. Then again, so do Jimmy Johnson, Don Coryell and Tom Flores. None of them are in the Hall of Fame. My man, Elliot Harrison, did a great job projecting the next 50 Hall of Famers in a piece written last month. He put Dungy in next year's class but didn't have Holmgren making it at all. That sounds about right, although I wouldn't be surprised if Dungy had to wait longer. Holmgren has a decent chance long term since he turned around two franchises.
Trent Green, Shaun Alexander, Warrick Dunn, Willie Anderson, Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest, Zach Thomas, Rodney Harrison, Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain
We're starting to see some of Bill Belichick's best championship defenders make it to consideration. I think Harrison is a very strong candidate, but he often was left out in the cold during Pro Bowl voting because he wasn't popular with writers or other players. It's very difficult for safeties to make it to Canton, but he deserves consideration.
McGinest had a better career than Bruschi, but both players didn't rack up the type of All-Pro honors that usually is required for consideration. McGinest, however, had the kind of signature playoff moments that get a voter's attention.
Dunn and Alexander were very good running backs, but Alexander's peak wasn't long enough. Dunn arguably was never a top-three running back.
Ultimately, I expect four men from this group -- Harrison, Jones, Brooks and Dungy -- eventually to get in the Hall. Holmgren wouldn't be a shock. Anyone else would be a surprise, but the voters have been known to throw a curveball now and then.