Reed has been named Defensive Player of the Year. He resides on the 2000s All-Decade Team as a first-teamer. And he's even managed to find himself in the Bill Belichick Hall of Fame. So what's left for the former ballhawk to accomplish? Pro Football Hall of Fame, first ballot. There is no way I would have Reed wait, and I don't think the voters will, either. He was arguably the best player at his position during his prime, owns a Super Bowl ring and is universally respected. Former President Barack Obama even singled him out when the Ravens visited the White House following their victory in Super Bowl XLVII. What's also not fake news ... Reed is only one of two players to lead the NFL in interceptions three times, and the only safety to ever do it (CB Everson Walls is the other). I can't imagine a stronger candidate.
Another sure-fire Hall of Famer in his first year of eligibility. Gonzalez is the all-time leader in receptions (1,325) and yards (15,127) among tight ends. The athletic tight end out of Cal was remarkably consistent, catching at least 70 balls over the last 11 years of his career. Gonzalez is still 236 receptions ahead of the next-closest player at this position, the Cowboys' Jason Witten. He is also more than 3,000 yards ahead of Witten, another certain Hall of Famer, as of right now. With Witten being 35 years old, the chances of him catching Gonzalez in either category is remote. Even if Witten somehow does, Gonzalez's yards per catch and touchdown-per-reception rate is so much higher that he will still be considered the greatest player to ever man the position, at least until we get a bird's-eye view of Rob Gronkowski's career.
While initially being hesitant to whisk Urlacher into the Hall of Fame, I have changed my mind. Like the running back position, how many middle linebackers are coming down the pike that are sure-fire Hall of Famers? After Ray Lewis waltzes into Canton's doors (or does his gyrating electric-slide dealio), Urlacher and, perhaps, Patrick Willis will be the only Hall-eligible MLBs for quite some time. At least until Luke Kuechly, Sean Lee and Bobby Wagner call it a day -- and none of them are Hall of Fame-level players at this point. (Kuechly needs a few more strong seasons.) Urlacher's credentials: first-team All-Decade of the 2000s, Defensive Player of the Year in 2005 and 2000 Defensive Rookie of the Year, to name a few. Drawbacks? Not much. Well, I guess no ring. But a linebacking trio of Lawrence Taylor, Mike Singletary and Derrick Thomas couldn't have won a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman at QB.
Putting Lynch down for induction in this class does not necessarily mean I feel he's a better player than Darren Woodson or Steve Atwater. In fact, no harm no foul if either gets enshrined before the former Bucs great. What Lynch's career represents is slightly different than either player. Lynch made himself into a top-shelf brand, enduring not only woeful Tampa teams early in his career, but a defensive coordinator who didn't even want him in the first place. Lynch survived the Sam Wyche era, flourished with the transition to Tony Dungy and helped drive the Jon Gruden run to the Super Bowl. He starred on a defensive-centric outfit that won the Lombardi Trophy. Throw in a few nice seasons with the Broncos -- as well as nine total Pro Bowl nods -- and you have a Hall of Fame catalogue.
Not only will Bailey ease into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility -- his name belongs among the elite to ever play his position. Bailey was arguably the top cover corner in football during his prime, a bridge between the Deion Sanders and Darrelle Revis eras of shutting down one side of the field. Starting his fantastic career in Washington, Bailey learned from a legendary defensive back in Darrell Green, not only taking in tricks of the trade, but also learning how to prepare mentally and physically. Each would play a part in Bailey performing for over a decade at a high level. A top-flight athlete, his career spanned 15 seasons, 12 of which resulted in a Pro Bowl selection (with three netting first-team All-Pro honors). What a player.
Not being elected to the Hall of Fame is not a travesty for Drew Pearson. Yet, according to a voter I spoke with, Pearson's name has never even come up. Say what?! The former Cowboy great was named first-team All-Decade of the 1970s. Pearson is the only skill-position player named first-team All-Decade from the '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s or '90s to not make it to Canton. And yet, his name never comes up? What the #$@&?! Pearson made this insanely clutch catch to beat the Rams in the playoffs as a rookie. Roger Staubach authored the original Hail Mary -- Pearson was the first one to read it. How about his two touchdown catches in the closing minutes of the 1980 Divisional Playoff to knock off the top-seeded Falcons? The three-time All-Pro also started three Super Bowls. OK, I'm done.
A guy who saw plenty of Pearson and the Cowboys was Giants GM and personnel executive George Young. When he came onboard in 1979, New York had gone 15 seasons without a playoff appearance. Young got off to a fast start, as his first-ever draft pick was derided. Understandable, seeing as that quarterback did take eight whole seasons to deliver the greatest performance by a quarterback in Super Bowl history. (Sarcasm was intended.) Even before New York won Super Bowl XXI or Super Bowl XXV, Young built a viable postseason squad that fielded winning teams in 1981, '84 and '85. His hiring of Bill Parcells following the surprise departure of head coach Ray Perkins proved to be a masterstroke. Oh, and Young won Executive of the Year FIVE times. Five.