|Tom Brady, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning are well on their way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.|
The month of June is traditionally the slowest for the NFL, which gives guys like me a chance to speculate -- on, say, things like future Hall of Famers.
The careers of quarterback Kurt Warner and left tackle Walter Jones came to an end this offseason, and I believe their bodies of work will get them into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Then again, I also believe tight end Shannon Sharpe and wide receiver Cris Carter should be in by now. The longer things linger for these two, the more I wonder what it will take for them to get in.
During my Sirius Radio show on Memorial Day, I was challenged with the question: Which active players have already done enough to punch their tickets for Canton? From that fundamental question came these questions: Which players are close to getting into the Hall? Which players have a chance? Which players will just miss out? And, for which players who seem on track is it simply too early to determine?
I asked front office executives, talked with two NFL historians who I respect, took emails from passionate fans, and looked at the current production of 37 present-day players who fall into one of these categories.
You're going to disagree with some of my views and see eye-to-eye with me on others, but here's the best that I can categorize these players.
1. Brett Favre, QB, Vikings: No argument here whatsoever. He's the all-time leader in passing yards (69,329) and touchdowns (497) and has a Super Bowl ring, with the very real possibility of adding another should he come back.
2. Peyton Manning, QB, Colts: Manning has already thrown for 50,128 yards (fourth all-time behind Favre, Dan Marino and John Elway) and 366 touchdowns (third all-time), is the only four-time league MVP, and has his Super Bowl ring. If the 33-year-old Manning was to play six more years at this pace, he'll finish with close to 76,000 yards and 550 touchdowns.
3. Tom Brady, QB, Patriots: It's not about stats for Brady, although a single-season record of 50 touchdown passes in 2007 was quite impressive. The only number that matters: Three. As in three Super Bowl championships (twice MVP) says it all.
4. Ray Lewis, ILB, Ravens: In 14 seasons, Lewis has been the epitome of hard-hitting defense in the NFL. He has been tackling players longer than the league has kept stats for them (since 2001). Throw in his 36.5 sacks, 28 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles, and the fact that he was the general of the 2000 Ravens' defense that led the franchise to its only Super Bowl championship, and he's a lock for the Hall.
5. Tony Gonzalez, TE, Falcons: Gonzalez is partly responsible for revolutionizing the position as we know it. He's the career leader among tight ends with 999 receptions (seventh overall) and 82 touchdowns.
6. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Jets: Only recently has L.T. showed signs of decline. In nine seasons as a Charger, he had 12,490 rushing yards (eighth all-time) with 138 rushing touchdowns (second all-time). On top of that, he has 530 receptions for 3,955 yards and 15 touchdowns. And he only had one of the greatest seasons ever in 2006 when he was named league MVP after scoring 31 total touchdowns and amassing 2,323 yards of offense.
7. Ed Reed, FS, Ravens: A ball hawk if there ever was one, in eight seasons Reed has 46 interceptions, 70 passes defended, nine forced fumbles, and five sacks. He's also scored six touchdowns in his career.
Close, but not confirmed
1. Randy Moss, WR, Patriots: In 12 seasons, Moss has 926 receptions at 15.6 yards per catch with 148 touchdown catches, second only to Jerry Rice (197). Since joining the Patriots in 2007 (when he caught a single-season record 23 touchdowns), Moss has been on fire and, with at least one more year with Brady (he becomes a free agent after next season), he projects to increase those numbers substantially in 2010.
2. Kevin Mawae, C: His career may be over since no teams have apparently contacted him this offseason, but when it comes to Hall credentials there's little to argue about a guy with 16 seasons, 238 starts and eight Pro Bowls.
4. Terrell Owens, WR: His career, like Mawae's, could be over, but I hope not because T.O. can still play. Owens has 1,006 receptions at 14.9 yards per catch and 144 touchdowns. Hey, Carter finished with 1,101 receptions and 130 touchdowns, and he's still waiting.
5. Drew Brees, QB, Saints: Brees just picked up his first Super Bowl and has thrown for more than 30,000 yards in nine seasons and has 202 touchdowns to just 110 interceptions. If he plays five more seasons at this pace, he will walk away with close to 50,000 yards and 315 TD passes and maybe another SB ring. That right there would likely get him in.
6. Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers: He's been regarded as the best at his position for most of his career. In seven seasons, the former college basketball player has 479 receptions and 59 touchdowns, which puts him ahead of Gonzalez's pace for scores, averaging just over eight TDs a season.
7. Charles Woodson, CB, Packers: In 12 seasons, the six-time Pro Bowler has 45 interceptions (including a career-high nine last season in which he was named Defensive Player of the Year), 84 passes defended, 11.5 sacks, and 17 forced fumbles.
8. Darren Sharper, FS, Saints: Surprised by Sharper being this high up in the rankings? Well, in 13 seasons, Sharper has 63 interceptions, 11 touchdowns, 7.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles and, of course, a Super Bowl ring last year.
9. Troy Polamalu, SS, Steelers: This guy can flat-out do it all on defense. He is a special talent. In seven seasons, Polamalu has 20 interceptions, seven forced fumbles and one touchdown. In the last four years, though, he has only had a 16-game season once.
At this pace, they have a shot
1. Andre Johnson, WR, Texans: In seven seasons, Johnson has 587 receptions for 7,948 yards and 42 touchdowns. To go along with that production, he's a high-character guy. Johnson can boast to being the only player besides Rice to lead the NFL in receiving back-to-back seasons since the merger. Johnson is on pace for more than 1,000 receptions, but he has to pick up the pace on touchdowns, averaging just six per year.
2. Brian Urlacher, MLB, Bears: He may not hold up to compariasons with the Ravens' Lewis, but in 10 years the six-time Pro Bowler has one more sack (37.5) than Lewis in 14 years, and 934 tackles, 17 interceptions, and eight forced fumbles.
3. Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings: He's made three Pro Bowls in his first three seasons, averaging 1,776 yards of offense a season and 13 touchdowns. He should come close to Tomlinson numbers if he stays healthy.
4. Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts: His numbers are starting to pile up with Marvin Harrison out of the picture. In nine seasons, he has 676 receptions and 63 touchdowns. He should get to over 1,000 receptions and 100 touchdowns, but that may not be enough as receiving numbers are exploding.
5. Donovan McNabb, QB, Redskins: McNabb has been to five Pro Bowls, a Super Bowl and 12 playoff games (including five NFC title games). McNabb averages close to 3,000 yards and 19 touchdowns a season, and if he finds the same fountain of youth Elway found with Mike Shanahan, he could finish up with close to 50,000 yards and 285 touchdowns. A Super Bowl win would help his chances out a lot.
7. Brandon Marshall, WR, Dolphins: The guy has more than 100 receptions in each of the last three seasons and if the 26-year-old can keep his head on straight, he could wind up with well over 1,000 receptions. His yards per catch and touchdowns are not on pace with Moss or Owens, though.
8. DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Cowboys: He's been to four Pro Bowls in his first five seasons in which he's piled up 64.5 sacks (20 in 2008 alone). That's a darn good start for this 28-year-old. He could wind up with over 125 sacks and 50 forced fumbles by the end of his career.
May come up short
1. Hines Ward, WR, Steelers: After 12 seasons, 895 receptions and 78 touchdowns may leave him short. Ward is solid and durable but has never been a true No. 1 receiver.
2. Steven Jackson, RB, Rams: Such a talented athlete, but it's hard to get the recognition he may deserve on a bad team most of his career. After six seasons, he is averaging 1,221 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns a year.
4. Ronde Barber, CB, Buccaneers: He's made five Pro Bowls in his 13-year career, in which he has 37 interceptions, 104 passes defended and 11 forced fumbles. It's been a fine career for Barber, but it might not be enough.