On Saturday, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2019 was announced. Below, Elliot Harrison provides key takeaways from the latest group of NFL luminaries to be honored, including Champ Bailey, Tony Gonzalez, Ty Law, Kevin Mawae, Ed Reed, Pat Bowlen, Gil Brandt and Johnny Robinson:
Three first-ballot guys in one class ... again
That is the most important thing to glean from the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2019. Not many prior Hall classes have carried three first-ballot candidates, but voters decided to send three freshly eligible names to Canton for the second year in a row (last year, the three first-ballot inductees were Ray Lewis, Randy Moss and Brian Urlacher). Ed Reed and Tony Gonzalez were locks. Champ Bailey's status as a definite first-ballot guy was up for grabs. Yet, when you consider how many voters are under 40 these days, you have to also consider that the first "shutdown" corner those voters ever saw was probably Bailey, who played from 1999 to 2013. He was a top-flight defender for both the Redskins and Broncos, with his career really taking off with the latter team, for whom he played from 2004 on. His two-year run in 2005 and '06, when he picked off 18 passes, could stack up against that of any corner. Many of those picks came in the red zone, preventing scores and swinging momentum. Still, for every first-ballot player who eases right into the bust room, deserving players who've waited years are left on the outside. Bailey was phenomenal, and absolutely a Hall of Fame player, whether he made it this year or in any year ... but was he better than Thurman Thomas, Michael Irvin, Terrell Owens and other Hall of Famers who did not zip into Canton immediately? Fair question.
Ty Law's inclusion was a welcome surprise
While we're on the topic of corners, hearing that Ty Law was inducted is satisfying. Why? Start with the fact that he's been waiting years for a phone call -- or a knock on the door or a LinkedIn message or anything -- to let him know he's been chosen for Canton. Secondly, it's a market correction. When guys like Jason Taylor make it in on their first try (in 2017) while an equal like Law is on the outside looking in, it can make the induction process seem unfair. Like players or refs, voters are human. They're going to elect who they see fit. But it's tough to argue that players like Taylor or Urlacher were demonstrably superior to Law. I'm not saying Taylor or Urlacher weren't deserving. Both guys earned their spots. Rather, I'm pointing out that, with only so many spaces available, it's unfortunate a player of the same caliber had to be pushed back in line. For his part, Law picked off 53 balls, won three Super Bowls and played big in big games -- like the time he stole from Peyton Manning three times in the 2003 AFC Championship Game. Lastly, the Hall has been lacking in defensive players for a long time. Seeing four -- and all of them defensive backs -- receive pro football's highest honor is wonderful.
But there was an even BIGGER surprise
Kevin Mawae is, obviously, a larger human being than Law, but the former center being named to the same Hall of Fame class was a grande-sized shocker. Partially because of the position he played, Mawae seemed to be one of the less likely candidates this time around. Why? Because there was a solid chance that three first-ballot nominees would all get the rap on the door from Hall of Fame President David Baker. With only two modern-era spots remaining, what were the chances Mawae would beat out more famous offensive linemen in Tony Boselli and Steve Hutchinson? Not to mention former stars with huge numbers like Isaac Bruce, or names still relevant in the game today, like John Lynch? Or Alan Faneca, the only O-lineman on the list of finalists to win a Super Bowl (and who was a heckuva All-Pro guard, too)? Happy for Mawae, who toiled -- and excelled -- in the trenches for 16 seasons.
Now that it is known who is getting inducted, we also know who is not for at least another year. Tony Boselli and Edgerrin James are of particular note, due to the uniqueness of each player's case. Those Hall speculators opining that Terrell Davis re-kicked the door down for players who dominated for short stretches -- an opening that previously existed for Gale Sayers and Doak Walker -- should think again. No one refutes that Boselli was the finest offensive lineman of the mid- to late-1990s, or at least on par with any of the best. Once again, that proved to be not enough for voters. Boselli's teams enjoyed success in the postseason, but not nearly enough to equal Davis' two Super Bowl wins as a running back in Denver. Davis was also an MVP and a Super Bowl MVP. James was not, though like Davis, he was an incredibly prolific ball-carrier -- and he did it for longer. With over 12,000 rushing yards, a boatload of catches and four seasons of over 1,500 rushing yards, James was the top RB in waiting. He was a central figure in the success of the Peyton Manning-led Colts. He was a solid contributor to the Cardinals' Super Bowl team. His missing out on an induction again confirms what has been going on in the NFL the last several years: the devaluation of the running back.