AROUND THE NFL

It was a very good, almost great, Super Bowl with the Chiefs rallying late for the win.

 

The Chiefs became the 22nd team to win the Super Bowl with nothing but victories by 10+ points.  But, the key difference, they are the only team to do so while trailing by 10+ points at some point in each game.

 

With their victory, the Chiefs become the 13th team with multiple Super Bowl victories.  Their first and second wins are a record 50 years apart (50 years, 23 days since January 11, 1970 in New Orleans).

 

And with the win by the Chiefs, the AFC has now tied NFC in Super Bowl victories at 27 each. It is the fifth win in the last six Super Bowls for the AFC (three by the Patriots) and sixth in the last eight.

– – –

What about Kansas City’s big finish you ask?  Here are some tidbits:

 

The Chiefs tied the Super Bowl record by scoring 21 points in the 4th quarter.  The Cowboys in Super Bowl XXVII are the other team to score 21 in the fourth quarter (also unanswered) in their 52-17 win over the Bills.  The Patriots scored 19 unanswered points in the fourth quarter of their 25-point comeback against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI.  Kyle Shanahan was present on the losing side of two of those events.

 

This was the first time in a Super Bowl and the second time in an NFL postseason game that a team entered the fourth quarter trailing by 10+ points and went on to win by 10 or more.  The other was on January 3, 1993 when the Eagles scored 26 unanswered points to beat the Saints, 36-20. 

 

Teams leading by double digits at the end of the third quarter in the Super Bowl were 29-0 thru 2014. In the last seven games, they have gone 0-3 (Patriots rallied past Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX and past Falcons in Super Bowl LI).

– – –

As Black History Month dawns we note that this year’s NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (KYLER MURRAY), NFL MVP (LAMAR JACKSON) and Super Bowl MVP (PATRICK MAHOMES) were a different African-American quarterback.  Hat tip to 1340AMFoxSportsRadio.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

TAMPA BAY

The Buccaneers have their quarterbacks coach compiling info on QBs other than JAMEIS WINSTON.  Rick Stroud in the Tampa Bay Times:

 

It’s not every day a quarterback coach is asked to write a scouting report on these players:

 

Tom Brady, 42

 

Drew Brees, 41

 

Philip Rivers, 38

 

And yet that’s exactly what Bucs quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen was working on last week.

 

What do you say about some of these guys even after watching the tape?

 

Brady — Strong leader who has won six Super Bowls with lesser receiving talent with the Patriots.

 

Brees — Smallish QB who has mastered Sean Payton’s offense and overcame a devastating shoulder injury to become the NFL’s all-time passing leader and Super Bowl champion. Spearheaded the revitalization of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

 

Rivers — Durable leader who has never missed a game in his career and sixth on the all-time passing list behind Brees, Brady, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Dan Marino.

 

Is this Oz?

 

For a team that hasn’t reached the postseason in 12 years, is there a reason why the Bucs wouldn’t want one of these guys under center?

 

Well, yes. Two actually: How much longer will they play? How much gas is left in the tank?

 

It seems more likely with each passing day that Brees is going to retire. The Saints need to try to lock up his successor. Taysom Hill, who also is used as a running back, receiver, fullback, tight end and you name it, is a restricted free agent. They can likely retain him for one more year.

 

But Teddy Bridgewater, 27, is an unrestricted free agent and ready to take over as a starting quarterback.

 

Brees’ decision is one of the dominos that may have to fall before the quarterback market begins to move. The Saints will have a whopping $21.3 million salary-cap charge in 2020 for Brees before he potentially signs a new deal.

 

It’s going to be an interesting five weeks.

 

The Bucs have not made a decision about Jameis Winston, but the most likely possibility remains a franchise tag of $27 million that they would have to designate by 4 p.m. March 3.

 

Tampa Bay has 19 unrestricted free agents, including defensive front starters Shaqulle Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh and Carl Nassib.

 

And none of those future Hall of Fame quarterbacks are going to play for free.

 

Longtime NFL senior writer Peter King said last week he believes the Bucs could be a “dark-horse” candidate.

 

“Any quarterback wants a head coach who is really smart, who loves to throw the ball, with a team that has enough offensive pieces and a chance to win,’’ King said. “All of that, to me, makes Tampa Bay highly intriguing, a very interesting dark-horse candidate.’’

 

It’s true any quarterback should look at the Bucs’ offensive talent and feel confident they can win some games.

 

But for years, Tampa Bay has been used for leverage against other teams by coaches, players and opponents. The Packers were going to trade Brett Favre to Tampa Bay. They got a better deal from the Jets. Bill Parcells left the Bucs at the altar twice.

 

If Brady opts to leave the Patriots, and it seems more likely every day he will, the Chargers and Raiders would appear to be a more likely landing spot.

 

But the Bucs have to be prepared for any scenario.

 

Quarterback is a priority in the draft

The Bucs plan to select a quarterback in the 2020 NFL draft. That doesn’t mean they will take one with the 14th overall pick.

 

But whether Winston returns or not, they need to address the position. Ryan Griffin, 30, has attempted four passes in his NFL career. At the very least, the Bucs need a young player at the position to develop into a potential starter.

 

LSU’s Joe Burrow will go No. 1 to the Bengals. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa could go in the top five. Oregon’s Justin Herbert is a first-day pick, but he could slip to the middle of the first round.

 

But there also are quarterbacks such as Utah State’s Jordan Love, Georgia’s Jake Fromm, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts and Washington’s Jacob Eason that are projected in rounds 2-4.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Peter King is typical of those who thought Kyle Shanahan was the Goat (not the GOAT) for his hesitancy at the end of the first half:

 

GOAT OF THE WEEK

Kyle Shanahan, head coach, San Francisco. I’m sure Shanahan will say that his clock management at the end of the first half was some combination of not wanting to give the ball back to Mahomes and knowing he was going to get the ball back to start the second half. But regardless of what is said, against a team as powerful offensively as Kansas City, you don’t give up a possession. With 90 seconds left and three timeouts, Shanahan could have taken enough small chances to put up at least three points before halftime. This decision didn’t lose the game, but any opportunity to score in the Super Bowl should be taken.

 

But….he did complete a pass that would have resulted in a field goal, but not for the offensive pass interference penalty.  The two Mostert runs gained only a total of five yards, but with the 49ers running is not a give-it-up play.  You could quibble with what Shanahan called, but he’s a Goat for a sequence that still would have produced the go-ahead field goal but for a penalty?

 

That said, we weren’t enamored with the sequence on the key late drive after the Chiefs took the lead.  Three straight incompletions, the third on a futile bomb on third and 10 where the goal should have been a first down or a short fourth down.  Then, a sack.  No targets of GEORGE KITTLE.  In all likelihood it wasn’t JIMMY GAROPPOLO’s finest hour, but still that sequence was not the mark of genius.

 

Scott Kachsmar thought that WR EMANUEL SANDERS was open on the third down bomb and has this to say:

 

3rd-and-15: Mahomes delivers a bomb for 44 yards to save the game

 

3rd-and-10: Garoppolo overthrows an open Sanders deep to bring up 4th-and-doomsday

 

Not to oversimplify things, but I really think that was the game tonight. One QB made the throw, the other didn’t.

 

 

SEATTLE

The NFL’s AP Most Valuable Player vote may be the last all-or-nothing voting system left for the big sports awards.  Peter King notes what it has produced:

 

On Saturday night, Lamar Jackson became the second player in history to be a unanimous MVP, collecting all 50 votes from a national media panel selected by the Associated Press. There are not second or third-place votes. The 50 voters are asked to pick one MVP at the end of each regular season.

 

Russell Wilson:

 

• Is the second-leading quarterback in passer rating (101.2) in NFL history.

 

• Has started all 143 Seattle games (128 regular season, 15 playoffs) since the day he was drafted by the Seahawks.

 

• Has quarterbacked Seattle to the playoffs in seven of his eight seasons as a pro, and taken the team to two Super Bowls.

 

• Has a better winning percentage (.668) in regular season and postseason games than all-timers Aarons Rodgers (.645) and Drew Brees (.590).

 

Has never received an MVP vote.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

Some notes about on PATRICK MAHOMES:

 

At 24 years, 138 days, Patrick Mahomes is the 2nd-youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl (Ben Roethlisberger was 23 years, 320 days when he was the Steelers quarterback in their Super Bowl XL victory over Seattle).  He is  the 22nd individual quarterback to win a Super Bowl MVP (30 total times).  ahomes is the youngest player to ever win an MVP and Super Bowl, surpassing Cowboys great Emmitt Smith (24 years, 233 days).

 

With two touchdown passes in Super Bowl LIV, Mahomes became the fifth quarterback to throw 10 or more TD passes in a single postseason.  Mahomes, at age 24, is the youngest to accomplish the feat.  The others are Joe Montana (1989), Kurt Warner (2008) and Joe Flacco (2012) who had 11 and Tom Brady (2014) who had 10.

 

Mahomes is the first QB who finished his college career at a Texas school to win the Super Bowl and the 3rd Texas-born quarterback to win a Super Bowl (joining Drew Brees and Nick Foles). He is the first quarterback to play in the Big 12 to win a Super Bowl.  Jeff Hostetler played at West Virginia when it was in the Big East.

 

Mahomes is the 3rd quarterback (fourth time) to win a Super Bowl while wearing # 15.  Bart Starr won the first 2 SBs in #15 for Green Bay and Jeff Hostetler led the New York Giants to victory in #15 in SB 25.

 

Mahomes now has a career record (including postseason) of 28-8 as an NFL starting quarterback.  He has never lost a game by more than 7 points.

– – –

Turning to Andy Reid, he is the 33rd individual to win a Super Bowl as a head coach. Reid is the 7th coach to take two different teams to the Super Bowl, of which five won at least one Super Bowl.  Don Shula (Dolphins after the Colts) and Dick Vermeil (Rams after the Eagles) are the other two who won with their second Super Bowl team. 

 

Reid’s Super Bowl victory came with his 222nd career win (207 regular season, 15 postseason) in his 365th career game as an NFL head coach.  He is ranks sixth on the all-time victories list.  Marty Schottenheimer, a Chiefs coach for 10 seasons, is once again the winningest coach (205 total) without a Super Bowl victory.

 

This tweet from Nick Wright:

 

@getnickwright

Patrick Mahomes has started 36 games in the NFL.

 

He’s won an MVP.

He’s quarterbacked a top 5 scoring offense in NFL history.

He’s lead the 4th greatest playoff comeback ever… in a quarter.

He’s lead the 2nd greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.

He’s won Super Bowl MVP.

 

And Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com points to what is to come:

 

Patrick Mahomes is heading into the offseason thinking about football, not contract negotiations.

 

Mahomes was asked this morning about his expectations for a new contract, which his agent and the Chiefs are likely to be negotiating over the offseason. Mahomes said that’s just not on his radar.

 

“That’s stuff that’s handled with other people,” Mahomes said. “Obviously, I want to be in Kansas City a long time. I want to win a lot of football games.”

 

Mahomes’ agent, Leigh Steinberg, will certainly spend plenty of time talking with the Chiefs’ front office this offseason, and Mahomes is likely to land the biggest contract in NFL history. But he says he isn’t going to let that change his approach to the offseason, or take his focus off being back at the Super Bowl next year.

 

Jason Kander reported this story on Twitter:

 

I heard a story recently that highlights what’s special about #ChiefsKingdom and about our quarterback.

 

A few weeks back, @PatrickMahomes  and his girlfriend @brittanylynne8  were having dinner at a pizza place near their home in #KC.

 

Obviously everyone recognized them, but nobody interrupted them at all, allowing them to enjoy a peaceful meal. They paid their bill and started to head out the door, and still nobody is jumping up to ask for a selfie or an autograph or anything.

 

Pat stops at the door, turns back, and everyone looks up. He says to the entire restaurant, “Thanks for letting us enjoy our dinner. This is why I LOVE Kansas City. You guys are awesome!”

 

After he and Brittany left, it was revealed they had paid the bill for every table.

 

It’s one of those stories that is too good to check, but someone did and it might not be true.  Still, it does seem true to the spirit of Mahomes and Kansas City at this time.

– – –

 

Peter King:

 

Reid is one of those sunny-side-of-the-street guys. He might doubt his players sometimes. But he’ll never say he doubts them. I told him Mahomes threw a ball right to Fred Warner, and another behind Hill, and maybe it just wasn’t his day.

 

“I never think that,” Reid said. “I always think with him, keep firing. I’ve seen this before. Right when you don’t think he’s gonna do something, he rips your heart out with great plays. You saw that with Larry Bird. Larry Bird might’ve gone cold for a little bit but he kept shooting. That’s what you do with the great ones. This kid’s young, but he’s great. He’s gonna do nothing but get better.”

 

“Luckily,” Mahomes aaid, “I got to bounce back in the fourth quarter and get the win.”

 

There’s not a lot of luck involved with Patrick Lavon Mahomes II, the son of major league pitcher Pat Mahomes and godson of major league pitcher LaTroy Hawkins. He once took batting practice with Alex Rodriguez, and was a 37th-round pick of the Tigers in 2014. He first thought of winning a Super Bowl as a goal in middle school, when he heard players say, “I’m going to Disney World.”

 

“I knew I wanted to do that,” Mahomes said. “Now that I’m here, I also know I wanted to win one for this coach. He’s one of the greatest coaches of all time, and I don’t think he needed the Lombardi Trophy to prove that. But now it puts all doubt aside.”

 

Indeed: Reed’s the sixth-winningest coach in NFL history. But his 222nd victory was his first Super Bowl title. The five coaches above him on the all-time list have won 26 championships collectively.

 

Reid might have said it didn’t matter to him as much as the outside world thought. But sitting in his office in a foreign stadium, the big red coaching clothes still damp with Gatorade from the on-field shower he took 90 minutes earlier, he really wanted to soak in this one.

 

“I’m not sure it’s sunk in quite yet but it’s sunk in enough to where I appreciate it,” Reid told me. “You’re humbled by it because so many people and so many years have been involved with it. I understand though, I truly understand that the game is not about one person. I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of people, great people. It’s special. We’re in it to win it, right? That’s one of the reasons you’re coaching football, is so that you can get to the finals with that team, build that team, get together with that team and enjoy that fight to winning the world championship. From that standpoint, I’m thrilled. I’m very excited. That was one of our goals. As a football team that was one of our goals. Not about one guy. It was one of our goals as a team.”

 

Time to go. Long past time to go. His VP of communications, Ted Crews, told him the buses were waiting for him.

 

Reid is a polite man. But on this night, it looked like he wanted to sit and talk about this game, and this life, all night.

 

“Ted,” Reid said, “we can take an Uber. Don’t worry. We’re good.”

 

Imagine the Uber driver who got the summons to fight through the abandoned barricades to pick up the fare in dark of the Miami night and got Andy Reid.

– – –

Give Scott Kacsmar credit for finding this gem:

 

@Scott Kacsmar

Eric Fisher can become the first No. 1 pick since Peyton Manning (1998) to win a Super Bowl for team that drafted him

 

Others since merger:

1997 Orlando Pace (STL)

1993 Drew Bledsoe (NE)

1991 Russell Maryland (DAL)

1989 Troy Aikman (DAL)

1974 Too Tall DAL

1970 Terry Bradshaw PIT

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

The DB would argue that the Chargers need some kind of shakeup as they head into SoFi Stadium this fall, and with PHILIP RIVERS in his RV headed to the Florida Panhandle and beyond, there will be a change at quarterback.

 

But any changes will not extend to the head coaching position.  Jeff Miller in the Los Angeles Times:

 

At the end of December, Anthony Lynn said he had “no problem betting” on himself, regarding his somewhat tenuous contract situation with the Chargers.

 

The team has concurred by signing the coach to an extension beyond the 2020 season, a source with knowledge of the deal confirmed Sunday.

 

Lynn, 26-22 in three years with the Chargers, had one season remaining on the contract he signed when hired in January 2017. The exact length of his extension was not immediately known.

 

After going 12-4 and winning a playoff game in 2018, the Chargers struggled with injuries and turnovers this year in finishing 5-11.

 

Even with those difficulties, general manager Tom Telesco continued to support Lynn and now has taken the next step of financially committing to him.

 

The extension brings some clarity for the Chargers entering an offseason clouded by uncertainty on several fronts.

 

Quarterback Philip Rivers’ future with the team is in doubt. The 16-year veteran is about to become a free agent, with neither side sure what will happen.

 

He recently moved his family from their longtime home in San Diego to Florida, adding more intrigue to the situation.

 

We thought it was clearer that Rivers is indeed gone.  This from Kenneth Arthur of Bolts From The Blue:

 

On Wednesday, I evaluated all 32 teams and their situation at quarterback so that we could have a better idea of potential destinations for the litany of potentially available QBs in 2020. Among the most prominent of course is Philip Rivers.

 

Though the LA Chargers have not made their intentions with Rivers publicly known yet, nor do they have any real reason to, many assume that a change is coming. A change for an organization that has started either Rivers or Drew Brees for each of the last 18 years but made only one AFC Championship game appearance. And a change for a quarterback whose Hall of Fame case includes sixth all-time in career passing yards and passing touchdowns, plus eight Pro Bowl appearances.

 

We’ve speculated a bit already on what the Chargers could do during that transition, but what about Rivers? Here are some possibilities based on what we know about the 32 QB situations.

 

Chargers

 

Connections: Well, you know.

 

Simple. What if Rivers just returns for a 15th season as the starter? Two years ago he was an MVP candidate under Anthony Lynn and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. Current OC Shane Steichen has been with the team in an offensive capacity since 2016, so he’s also familiar with Rivers in a way that few active coaches are. The team has a need at quarterback, nobody waiting to replace Rivers, and even if they drafted one early could do the sit and wait plan as long as everyone was on board with that idea at the time of signing.

 

Patriots

 

Connections: N/A

 

With the belief that Tom Brady is leaving growing stronger, of course New England will be scouting for a replacement. Now, they can either let that be Jarrett Stidham or they could make a play for a veteran. Brady and Rivers are not too similar, but if Bill Belichick signs Rivers, we can assume he had some sort of plan on how to make it work. I’m not saying this marriage seems likely, but obviously it could appeal to Rivers, who surely wants to focus his efforts on finding a destination that will give him the best opportunity to make the Super Bowl.

 

Colts

 

Connections: Head coach Frank Reich was his QB coach in 2013, and OC in 2014-2015; OC Nick Sirianni was the Chargers Offensive Quality Control coach in 2013 and then QB coach from 2014-2015, then WR coach from 2016-2017; TE coach Jason Michael held that job in San Diego from 2011-2013

 

The destination seen as the most obvious because of Reich and his staff having significant familiarity with Rivers. Not only that, the Colts have nearly the most cap space in the NFL (estimated at $87 million before cuts), two 2019 Pro Bowlers on the offensive line (Ryan Kelly, Quenton Nelson), and maybe the best under-25 linebacker in the NFL (Darius Leonard). The one position that seemed to be holding them back the most: Quarterback. Not that Jacoby Brissett was terrible, but the limitations between him and someone like Andrew Luck were immediately evident, as seen in the Colts losing in Week 1 to … the Chargers.

 

The Colts could find a trade partner for Brissett and save $16 million more (a team would be kind of stupid to not trade for Brissett if they only have to pay his $6 million base salary), putting them over $100 million under the cap. They could sign Rivers for $25 million and still have more cap space than almost every team in the NFL. With that money, they could re-sign Anthony Castonzo, add A.J. Green, make a play for a couple of high-end defensive free agents like James Bradberry and/or Jadeveon Clowney, and still make a push for someone like Hunter Henry if Rivers wanted a familiar face to throw to. I mean, I’m going full-push dream scenario for the Colts, but they’re setup pretty well.

 

Even without Rivers, Indianapolis seems to be sitting pretty well in the AFC South for 2020 — I’m highly skeptical of the Titans repeating their efforts and always skeptical of a Bill O’Brien team — which is what could make Rivers feel comfortable that this is in fact a decent shot at an AFC title. It’s hard to identify much of a downside other than the fact that the Colts were actually just an average team last year and super non-competitive in the second half of the season; they only beat the Jaguars and Panthers following a 5-2 start.

 

That’s just picking nits. The Colts have ammunition to make a play for any available quarterback. Does Reich want Rivers? Does GM Chris Ballard, who has no connection to Rivers, want him?

 

Bears

 

Connections: DC Chuck Pagano’s brother John was on the Chargers staff from 2002-2016

 

If the Bears cut Akiem Hicks, Prince Amukamara, Taylor Gabriel, and Cordarrelle Patterson, they’ll have $31 million in cap space. As of now, they’re looking at more like $4 million. Just saying, they’ll get the space eventually, but Chicago doesn’t have nearly as good of a situation as Indy. They do, however, have a really good team.

 

The Bears defense looks good enough to win them the NFC North again next year if they just don’t repeat the play they had at quarterback. Chicago has to be in the running for any QB, but can Matt Nagy still sell people on the idea that he’s an offensive guru?

 

Bucs

 

Connections: Rivers moved to Florida

 

I think Tampa presents almost as compelling of a case as Indianapolis, if not more so. They have a head coach who likes to air it out. They have two of the best receivers in the NFL and a pretty good tight end. Two pretty good tight ends. They quietly had a really good defense. They play in a division where the Saints’ future with Drew Brees is uncertain, the Panthers’ future with Cam Newton is uncertain, and the Falcons, who are mixed results every season it seems like. To top it off, Tampa Bay also has $79 million in cap space, with only the Dolphins, Colts, and Bills having more. They could afford to sign Rivers, re-sign Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, and still play the market. It all really comes down to their decision on Jameis Winston at this point. It’s not “Winston or Bust” because with all these options it could be “Winston or Rivers” or “Winston or Brady.” That hurts Winston’s leverage at this moment.

 

The Colts are an attractive option. Are they as attractive as the Bucs though if they don’t tag Winston?

 

Dark Horse Teams: Titans, Panthers

 

See TAMPA BAY for more.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

TRUMPED

President Donald Trump congratulated the Missouri-based Kansas City Chiefs for representing the state of Kansas after they won the Super Bowl Sunday night, Lisa Gutierrez of the Kansas City Star reports.

 

In a tweet that apparently disappeared — but was captured in screengrabs — Trump wrote: “Congratulations to the Kansas City Chiefs on a great game, and a fantastic comeback, under immense pressure. You represented the Great State of Kansas and, in fact, the entire USA, so very well. Our Country is PROUD OF YOU!”

 

Some are mocking the tweet, as they should and would, but we would say that we think all of Kansas, except perhaps the extreme west towards Denver, is indeed in Chiefs Kingdom.  A Missouri tweet, as was subsequently re-issued, would also miss the mark as we don’t know how strong Chiefs support is in St. Louis.

 

UPDATE – A map defining the favorite NFL teams throughout the U.S. through the spying abilities of Facebook, created by no less an authority of than the New York Times in 2014 defined Chiefs Kingdom as covering about 60% of geographical Missouri, 80+% of geographical Kansas (there is a strange pocket of Cowboys support in the middle of the state near Manhattan) and small slices of Iowa and Nebraska.  We were surprised to see that the favorite team, at that time, in most of Nebraska, was the Broncos, not the Chiefs. 

 

With victory and Rams abandonment, perhaps all of Missouri has now been conquered.

 

So while some quickly mocked Trump for the Kansas tweet, it was not strictly incorrect, just incomplete. The Chiefs do represent Kansas even if they play their games in Missouri.  They also represent most of Missouri.

 

 

CLASS OF 2020

Peter King on the Hall of Fame deliberations:

 

Special Pro Football Hall of Fame edition of 10 Things, after Denver safety Steve Atwater, St. Louis receiver Isaac Bruce, Indianapolis running back Edgerrin James, Seattle/Minnesota guard Steve Hutchinson and Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu were elected.

 

1. I think Saturday’s 6-hour, 33-minute meeting at the Loews Hotel Miami Beach was one of the most interesting meetings in my 29 years as a voter. That’s because I walked in thinking I knew only one somewhat sure thing—Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu—in the 15-member class, but also thinking I loved the list of candidates. Just loved it. I felt there were at least 12 or 13 worthy candidates; the max for entry in a year is five modern-era candidates. I believe all three offensive linemen on the list (Tony Boselli, Steve Hutchinson, Alan Faneca) belonged, as did all four safeties (Polamalu, Steve Atwater, John Lynch, LeRoy Butler). My hope going into the meeting was three of those seven players would make it, and three did. Because next year’s first-time-eligible players include some very strong ones—Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson, Calvin Johnson—the players who didn’t make it this year will face an uphill struggle with such a strong group next year. It’s possible that there could be only two spots open if those three mega-stars enter on the first ballot.

 

Regarding this year’s class: Atwater, one of the last killer strong safeties with instincts to match, has deserved this for several years. Bruce is one of the great route-runners, deep threats and beloved teammates of his time. What always impressed me about James, one of the very few rushing champs his first two years in the NFL, was the pride he took in blocking and being a complete player. Hutchinson had the mean streak, but also the intelligent streak, that a great guard should have—and Seattle wasn’t the same team when he left in free agency after five seasons, in 2005 at age 28. And Polamalu was instinctive and tone-setting and, in my opinion, the most important Steeler when they had the greatest rivalry in football with the Ravens a decade or so ago.

 

2. I think it’s always significant to see how long the 48 voters—including me—took in the discussion phase of the meeting, prior to the vote. For the record (thanks to Hall voter Clark Judge of Talk of Fame Network for keeping me honest on the times), here’s how long each discussion lasted, in descending order, and in minutes and seconds:

 

Boselli 36:00, Lynch 26:51, linebacker Sam Mills 24:43, James 23:51, Bruce 22:08, Hutchinson 21:20, Atwater 19:50, linebacker Zach Thomas 19:05, defensive lineman Richard Seymour 16:43, wide receiver Holt 16:05, Polamalu 13:09, wide receiver Reggie Wayne 12:10, defensive tackle Bryant Young 12:06, Butler 11:51, Faneca 9:28.

 

For Boselli and Lynch, it was fortifying for cases that have sometimes flagged in recent years. The consideration for them was real.

 

3. I think these are four men, I believe, who exit this year’s meeting with momentum for the near future:

 

• Zach Thomas. The Miami linebacker gets great support from Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, peers from his day. I think he’ll get in at some point.

 

• Tony Boselli. When I walked out of the room Saturday, after listening to such positive discussion about Boselli’s 97-game career, I thought he’d make it. We seem to be over the career-length argument (Boselli, six premier seasons; Terrell Davis, four, plus his great playoff history). This year, Hutchinson and Faneca were such formidable competitors, and rightfully so. I do think how he handled the greatest pass-rushers of his day, Bruce Smith and Derrick Thomas, will continue to resonate till he gets in.

 

• Alan Faneca. Will be stunned if he doesn’t get in the next two or three years.

 

• John Lynch. There was a good feeling in the room for Lynch. Voters seems to believe Warren Sapp up front, Derrick Brooks in the middle and Lynch in the back were tri-keys to the Bucs having the best sustained defense in the NFC around the turn of the century. What really impresses me: The Bucs were 3-1 versus the Rams at the peak of the Greatest Show on Turf, and Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner—bullish on Lynch’s Hall case—threw four TD passes with 12 interceptions in those four games. Lynch saved two of those three Tampa wins with last-drive, fourth-quarter picks of Warner, both on passes intended for Hall finalist Torry Holt.

 

4. I think with 20 people entering the Hall this year, it’s a bit unwieldy. So the Hall will have two enshrinements: Aug. 7, the weekend of the traditional Hall of Fame Game, and another enshrinement on Sept. 17, a Thursday, and the 100th anniversary of the first pro football game ever. Not sure how it will be divided yet.

 

5. I think, in the interest of full disclosure, I believe in publishing my ballot. The process works this way: The group of 48 voters listens to discussions on all 15 finalists. Then the voters are asked by secret ballot to cut the list to 10. When the top 10 vote-getters are tabulated, then we’re asked to vote by secret ballot to cut the list to five. (For this year, because the Hall wanted to ensure “20 for ’20,” so to speak (five modern-era enshrines, 15 “Centennial Class” winners, the Board mandated that we would not vote yes or no on the final five, as we usually do). That’s the second exception to the rules made this year. First, the Centennial Class was neither voted on by the regular selectors nor approved by the regular selectors, and now the five survivors didn’t have to pass a final muster, as has been the case in the voting for years. Feels like too many asterisks are going to be in the books for the 2020 class. Anyway . . . here is how I voted:

 

• On the cut to 10, I voted for Atwater, Boselli, Bruce, Faneca, Hutchinson, James, Lynch, Mills, Polamalu and Thomas.

 

• On the cut to five, I voted for Atwater, Boselli, Hutchinson, James and Lynch.

 

6. I think an explanation for the lack of vote for Polamalu on the final five is necessary. I believe he was one of the top five candidates this year, and I believe in voting for the best five candidates. But because I felt certain Polamalu would make it regardless of my vote, I decided to vote for three players I felt were marginal after listening to the deliberations—Atwater, Boselli and Lynch. I don’t feel great about doing that, honestly. Our jobs are to vote for the best five, and I was totally on the fence about the fifth yea vote had I marked down Polamalu. It still bothers me a little bit. But I felt so strongly about the cases of Atwater, Boselli and Lynch, who were exceedingly close in my eyes, that I wanted to vote for them, knowing that a vote not for Polamalu was not going to keep him out. I’ve done this a couple of times before, and I absolutely do not want to make it a habit. It just felt like the right thing to do this year.