NFL Honors ... MVP, Rookie(s) of the Year, Coach of the Year, bad jokes. It was all there. And so was the announcement of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2017.
LaDainian Tomlinson, Kurt Warner, Terrell Davis, Morten Andersen, Jason Taylor, Jerry Jones and Kenny Easley will comprise the 55th group to receive immortal busts in Canton this summer. This ends any debate about short, brilliant careers always losing out to longevity. It also perpetuates the Terrell Owens discourse for another year. Let's start our post-announcement analysis with the mixed soup that is this class:
1) LaDainian Tomlinson headlines an eclectic mix; J.T. and J.J. surprise
On Friday, I surmised that LaDainian Tomlinson was the only proverbial lock in this year's Canton group. He represents the obvious choice in that he checks all the career offensive categories: rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and scrimmage yards. Yet, we got a running back in Terrell Davis who had virtually no career numbers, unless you count the big three: a 2,000-yard season, a league MVP award and a Super Bowl MVP. Oh yeah, those. We got a quarterback in Kurt Warner who played Arena ball, competed in NFL Europe and went seven years between Pro Bowl seasons. Oh, but those MVPs again (two league, one Super Bowl). And we got a kicker in Morten Andersen. Check that: a scorer. As in, the league's all-time leading scorer.
Amidst all the rancor as to whether John Lynch or Brian Dawkins would make the Hall, Jason Taylor pulled an end around -- that is, a defensive end around -- and made it over Lynch and Dawkins. While both those modern-era safeties will have to wait another year, Kenny Easley-- another safety who, like Davis, didn't play long -- will be strutting come August. Also worth noting is the surprise induction of Jerry Jones, at least in terms of his being selected while Paul Tagliabue was snubbed. It seems voters realized the impact Jones has made in terms of growing the game. The sentiment against the maverick owner -- that the Cowboys haven't won titles since the mid-1990s -- is mitigated by the fact that only one franchise has won more championships than Dallas since Jones entered the league: the Patriots.
2) The Short-Career-Window Argument meets its match: brilliance
Perhaps the oldest running argument for what makes a player Hall-worthy is the one that pits the player with the short but swinging career against the steady Pro Bowler. Historically, longevity has won out. Which is why Davis has waited nearly a decade to hear his name called and why Easley's initial 20-year window ran out without his ever being inducted. It took a Seniors Committee nomination to put his name on the ballot.
Here's the deal: Davis was the best player at the running back position from 1996 to '98, or at least the first guy considered in the discussion. Easley? The top safety in pro football from 1982 to '86, or right about the time the 49ers moved first-ballot Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott to that position. If you are the best running back in the NFL by virtue of being one of the few in recent history to win the MVP award, or you were Defensive Player of the Year at a position that usually doesn't get that kind of street cred ... aren't you also the best in the world at what you do? Would you take the original lineup of Guns N' Roses -- and its seven-year crescendo -- over a decade of Oasis? Check.
3) Wait. What?! No T.O.? SMH?
Just trying to predict the thousands of tweets going around right now. Although I predicted Terrell Owens would make the Hall of Fame this year, consider it not surprising he didn't. A veteran Hall voter told me there was still significant opposition to Owens getting in. His first point was that even the greatest wide receivers -- Michael Irvin, Cris Carter and Marvin Harrison, to name a few -- had to wait in this era of ballooning passing numbers. Was Owens better than those guys? The numbers say yes. But then comes the second point: that multiple teams (as many as five, but certainly the Eagles and Cowboys) were ready to see the controversial wide receiver go.
The counterpoint: Owens' incredible career stats. I'll throw in another: the immense desire he displayed on the football field, including when he did everything humanly (and Cyberdyne Systems-ly) possible to get his body ready for Super Bowl XXXIX. The key here is that while the voters are asked to not consider the off-the-field stuff, where does perceived disruptiveness in the locker room fall? If continuity is considered integral to team success, this could continue to plague T.O.'s candidacy.
4) The lack of defense remains offensive
Kudos to the voters for putting Taylor and Easley in the Hall of Fame and recognizing a well-deserving special teams player in Andersen. Unfortunately, it means the 2:1 ratio of offensive to defensive players isn't getting much better. And as a subset to that categorical argument, Taylor's induction means that safety gets short shrift again. Sure, Easley made it. But will Lynch, Dawkins and a guy like Darren Woodson be sitting around on finalist lists for decades?
5) Next year: a sneak peek
Predicting which players will be inducted next year is a far easier task than predicting the Seniors candidates and especially contributors, as we aren't sure who will be nominated, much less what voters look for from that group. We do know what the current decision makers value: Super Bowls, NFL records and being on offense. Especially the last part. So with that, and with many of the long-delayed -- like Davis, Andersen and Warner -- off the nominees list, here's my Modern-Era Class of 2018 ... for now:
1) Randy Moss, wide receiver: His time with Patriots will help his candidacy.
2) Ray Lewis, linebacker: No way he doesn't go in as a first-ballot.
3) Terrell Owens, wide receiver: Hard to believe Moss would make it while he waits longer.
4) John Lynch, safety: One of the current safeties will make it. Lynch has waited the longest.
5) Joe Jacoby, offensive tackle: With Brian Urlacher and others now eligible, already changing my mind.