This might be the final year in which a contributor is elected the traditional way into the Hall of Fame. Vice President Joe Horrigan has gone on the record saying that there has been discussion on altering the nature in which contributors are enshrined -- guys like former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, former Giants GM George Young and Sabol, the host of -- and a driving force behind -- NFL Films for decades. Sabol's voice, as well as the images captured by the company his father Ed started, are iconic and more than make his enshrinement necessary. The younger Sabol showed us the art in pro football, and for that, all who love the game owe him a debt of gratitude.
Injuries and age have slowed down Gates' production the past couple seasons. At 33, Gates isn't done, but how much does that matter? He's been part of a triumvirate of premium tight ends (with Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten) for the bulk of his career, and his numbers place him among the all-time leaders at the position. Tight ends have changed over the years, and it's players like Gates who morphed the position group by becoming a threat everywhere on the field.
Who knows how much longer Troy Polamalu will play? The guess here is the 32-year-old safety squeezes two more years out of a body that's endured plenty of aches and pains in his career. While not missing Bob Sanders' blocks of time, Polamalu has been excused from 30 games over the past seven seasons. How much more can the seven-time Pro Bowler take? The 2010 Defensive Player of the Year has two rings and plenty of credentials to be a first-ballot guy, just like Ed Reed.
Claude Humphrey has been through the voting spin cycle, having been a three-time finalist as a modern day player as well as a finalist in the Seniors process. Humphrey was one of the premier defensive ends of the 1970s and an integral part of the '77 Falcons. Why does that matter? Because the "Grits Blitz" -- as Atlanta's defense was known -- gave up 129 points. In 14 games. That's 9.2 per game. The All-Pro was a wonderful player, and frankly, the Falcons need more representation in the Hall of Fame as a franchise. Humphrey was a solid player for the Eagles, too.
Class of 2021
Brian Waters' candidacy is tricky, as the Cowboys have expressed interest in signing the former Chiefs' All-Pro in lieu of injuries in the front line. Right now, if Waters stays retired, he'll be eligible in 2017. Either way, he and Will Shields formed one of the most formidable guard tandems in league history while in Kansas City.
Surprised? You shouldn't be. After watching Lance Briggs perform so well in his 10th season in the NFL last year, how can a league observer or everyday fan not living in Chicago not recognize an elite career when they see one? Briggs is the real deal ... a team leader, a Pro Bowl player, and for years the best 4-3 outside 'backer in the NFL. Who knows when he'll hang 'em up, but the guess here is not until 2014 or 2015.
Terrell Davis will make it into the Hall of Fame someday. Your hack writer is in full support, if only for the reason that in a period that featured Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith and Marshall Faulk -- all first-ballot Hall of Famers -- Davis was the best running back in pro football. Well, at least he was, before his devastating knee injury in 1999. Yes, several Broncos' backs ran for 1,000 yards after Davis. But not like Terrell Davis. He was fantastic in Super Bowl XXXII, putting a veteran Broncos team on his back versus the Packers.
Originally we had my NFL Media colleague and former Cowboys personnel director Gil Brandt in the Class of 2021, but as stated previously, it's looking more and more like the good folks who run the Pro Football Hall of Fame will come up with a new method for inducting contributors. So consider former Cowboys safety Cliff Harris, a player Brandt scouted at tiny Ouachita Baptist, a solid candidate for the Seniors Committee vote. Harris was an All-Decade performer in the 1970s and, according to Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated, the best combination of a cover-hitter to play the safety position.