One amazing development of the NFL offseason has been how many good players the league has lost to retirement. In recent memory, I cannot remember a season where the league has lost so much Hall of Fame talent.
Sure, in 1999 Steve Young and Dan Marino walked away from the game together. Barry Sanders and John Elway both retired after the 1998 NFL season. There are plenty of instances where mega stars have retired in the same year.
Now, let’s consider who the NFL has lost since 2007 NFL Season ended:
Larry Allen: He came into the NFL in 1994 and became one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL shortly thereafter. He was selected to 11 Pro Bowls and was a six- Time All-Pro first team, earning those honors every year from 1996 to 2001. He ended his career in 2006 and 2007 with the San Francisco 49ers, making the Pro Bowl in 2006.
He is one of three players in NFL history to have made the Pro Bowl playing three different offensive lineman positions (RG, LG, and LT). The only Cowboy with more Pro Bowl appearances is Bob Lilly.
His only Super Bowl win was in his second season in 1995. He joined the team toward the end of the Dallas dynasty, but was still an incredible football player. Emmitt Smith was fantastic before Allen got there rushing for over 1,000 yards from 1991to 1993. Nevertheless, Emmitt Smith probably doesn’t rush for over 1,000 yards from 1994 to 2001 without Allen leading the way.
Allen was one of the strongest players ever to play in the NFL. In 2001 he bench-pressed over 700 lbs, and in the 2006 Pro Bowl skills competition he bench-pressed 225 lbs 43 times. Joey Porter, the winner the year before, could only do it 32 times (in his defense he weighs about 100 lbs less). For Allen to dominate that competition at the age of 35 was nothing short of amazing. He is one of the greatest lineman the NFL has ever seen and a worthy first ballot Hall of Famer.
Brett Favre: This retirement has grabbed its share of headlines, so I will keep it brief. This one is a no brainer. He is the NFL’s career leader in passing yards, touchdowns, attempts, completions, and interceptions. He is the only three-time MVP, winning all of those consecutively. He also has the most consecutive regular season starts by a quarterback (253 and 275 including playoffs).
He won his only Super Bowl in 1996. He made nine Pro Bowls and was a three time NFL All-Pro first team selection. Favre is on the short list of candidates for greatest quarterback and greatest football player ever. He is a modern day legend and NFL icon.
The shame of it is that he is going to be going in with so many other big names. While you have to be a great player to make the Hall of Fame, there are many Hall of Famers that are not in the conversation for being the best that ever played their position. Art Monk is a perfect example. He had a great career and is a worthy Hall of Famer. He is not in the debate for all time greatest wide receiver and took several years to gain induction.
Quarterbacks tend to steal the limelight anyway and No. 4 is going to steal the media spotlight when he goes into the Hall of Fame, regardless of who else is in the class. With so many deserving first-year candidates, it is going to make the media’s challenge of covering everyone fairly that much more difficult.
Jonathan Ogden: Just a fantastic offensive tackle. Like Allen, he was an 11-time Pro Bowl selection and was first team All-Pro four times. The difference is that Allen played on an offense that had Hall of Famers Michael Irvin and Troy Aikman, and future Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith. Nate Newton was a six-time Pro Bowler. Jay Novacek was a five- time Pro Bowler. Erik Williams was a four-time Pro Bowler. Darryl Johnston was a two- time Pro Bowler. That offense was stacked.
Jonathan Ogden played on good teams. He was drafted in the same draft class as Ray Lewis. That is a nice first round. But he was often the only Pro Bowler on his offense. He never played with a great quarterback. Jamal Lewis had some good years with the Ravens, including his 2,066 yard-season in 2003. That was Jamal Lewis’s only Pro Bowl season in Baltimore.
Offensive linemen are usually dependant on their offense for them to earn recognition for their talents. The fact that he was able to make 11 Pro Bowls playing tackle for an offense that finished in the top 10 scoring offenses on just two occasions in his 12 seasons is nothing short of amazing. Equally amazing is that there was rarely any controversy that he was selected. He was one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL and everyone was on board with that. He is deserving of going into the Hall of Fame in 2013.
Warren Sapp: This is the toughest sell of the five, but I believe he deserves first ballot induction. Here is how bad things were before Sapp arrived in Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay had lost 10 games or more in 12 consecutive seasons. They hadn’t made the playoffs since 1982, which was a strike-shortened season. The year 1981 marked their last playoff season. It was one of the worst franchises in the NFL and a death sentence to anyone drafted there. In his first season Tampa Bay broke that string finishing 7-9.
Sapp had help. Derrick Brooks is a 10-time Pro Bowl selection that was drafted in the same draft class. John Lynch, Warrick Dunn, Mike Alstott, and Ronde Barber all played big roles. Tony Dungy was hired in 1996 and while they didn’t win a Super Bowl with Dungy as head coach, Dungy laid the framework for the Super Bowl run in 2002 led by Jon Gruden. No team wins because of one player and Sapp played as big of a role as any player the Bucs had.
The name of the game in Tampa was defense. The Bucs finished in the top 10 in both points and yards allowed every year from 1997 to 2003. Brooks was the best player on the defense, but Sapp was the emotional leader of the Bucs. When the Bucs couldn’t beat the Packers, it was Sapp that got into Favre’s face and let him know there was going to be a new contender in the NFC.
While the Bucs have had some good defenses since Sapp left, they haven’t been nearly as intimidating since Sapp went to Oakland. In fact, they were downright awful in 2005, finishing 21st in points allowed and 17th in yards allowed. Even last year they ranked 17th in rushing yards allowed. That never happened when Sapp was there. The Bucs were mainstays in the top 10 rushing defenses with Sapp anchoring the middle of the defensive line for many years.
Sapp’s Oakland stint was uneventful and his Oakland teams were pitiful. That made people forget how dominant Sapp was in Tampa Bay. Sapp made seven Pro Bowls, all consecutively from 1997 to 2003. He was All-Pro first team four times. He was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1999 when he recorded 12.5 sacks.
That wasn’t even his best season as he recorded 16.5 the following year. Had it not been for Ray Lewis’s monster 2000 season, Sapp very well could have repeated. His 96.5 career sacks rank 28th in NFL history (NFL started keeping track in 1982).
The only defensive tackles that are comparable to him in terms of sacks are John Randle, Henry Thomas, and Robert Porcher. Porcher and Randle split time at defensive end and none of those three was as dominant as Sapp against the run.
Most of the guys that put up big sack numbers are outside linebackers and defensive ends. He did it at defensive tackle. To put that in perspective, Jamal Williams was the NFL All-Pro defensive tackle in 2005 and 2006. He has recorded 11.5 sacks in his 10 seasons there. Sapp was an all time great defensive tackle and a rare blend of run stopping and pass rushing. He absolutely deserves to go into Canton in 2013.
Michael Strahan: He is another must for Canton in 2013. He recorded the most sacks in a single 16 game season with 22.5. His 141.5 career sacks ranks fifth on the NFL’s all-time list. He is a seven-time Pro Bowler and four time NFL All-Pro first- teamer. He played in two Super Bowls, with his team going 1-1.
He was good at stopping the run and great at rushing the passer. The Giants had the Reeves, Fassell, and Coughlin eras in New York. The Giants made the playoffs under all three coaches. Fassell’s team lost to the Ravens in the Super Bowl and Coughlin’s Giants won it last year.
The New York Giants had many good players over the years. Tiki Barber was a great runner. Kerry Collins had some good years before Eli Manning arrived. Jessie Armstead was his sidekick on defense earlier in his career, and later in his career the entire defensive line became the strength of the team.
The one constant the team has had from 1993 to 2007 has been Michael Strahan. He is the one that kept this team together through good times and bad. When Barber and Coughlin were disagreeing, Shockey was mad about the offense, and when Burress wanted the ball more, it was Strahan that made sure the team wasn’t ripped apart beyond repair. He was the team leader that seemed to settle this team down when things were at their worst.
I’m not sure they get over their 0-2 start without him in 2007. It was his desire and effort that led the Giants through their historic Super Bowl run in 2007. Eli Manning and a lot of other players played well, but they don’t win that ring without Strahan leading the defense.
That is just the elite players. The list doesn’t even include a guy like Steve McNair who gave the NFL 13 solid years of service. While he probably will not make the Hall of Fame, he was a very solid player that will be missed.
When you consider that the NFL allows a minimum of four and a maximum of seven (was three and six until this year) people to be inducted into the Hall of Fame each year and it is going to be tough for other players to make it in 2013.
Plus, this list is only for first-year eligible players. It doesn’t include the backlog of deserving players that haven’t made the Hall yet. Remember what 2007 taught us: If Chris Carter can’t get in on his first ballot with the exception of Favre no one on this list is a guarantee in 2013.
The NFL is a league that markets itself around its history and its teams, not around its individual players. The league has been built to withstand great players leaving the game.
This is not the NBA, where the league goes into crisis for five years after Michael Jordan leaves trying to figure out who will be the league’s next breadwinner. Allen, Odgen, and Sapp played on terrible teams in 2007 that saw little national TV coverage.
Brett Favre is the biggest loss the league has seen in many years and the NFL will continue to prosper financially even without someone as dynamic and marketable as him.
It seems like a sad day though when you come to reality that five (six if you include McNair) of the best teammates you could ever ask to have on your team are no longer going to be taking snaps in the NFL.
In an era where the league has to worry about what strip club Pacman Jones is going to visit next, or what quarterback Terrell Owens is going to throw under the bus (sorry Dallas fans but your owner signed these guys); it is refreshing to remember that there are still players that not only played the game, but conducted themselves in a way that makes you proud to follow the game.
That isn’t to say these individuals were without faults. Sapp is the toughest sell in that regard when you consider his marijuana issues before the draft, clothesline of Clifton that almost ended his career, the fights he had with Keyshawn Johnson, and some of his memorable postgame comments.
Strahan had a very public and messy divorce. Even Favre, who was as loved by opposing fans as much as any player in NFL history had his faults, battling pain killer addiction in 1996. Every player regardless of his talent has things he wished could have turned out differently.
I’m not saying these guys were perfect people. What they did was play the game at 100 percent regardless of the score or circumstance. Their number one goal was always victory. They played to make the team better.
They were guys that fans of their biggest rivals respected. They made the people they played with and the communities in which they resided better places. They were throwbacks to a time when agents, contracts, and personal accomplishments were not a priority. They were football players in every sense of the word.
While they made mistakes, those mistakes did not define them as people or define their careers. These individuals will be missed for their contributions on the field.
We should all wish them the best now that they have moved on to the next phase in their lives as they gave everything they had to entertain us on Sundays. They have left the NFL with some very big shoes to fill.
Derek Lofland is the NFL director at Fantasy Football Maniaxs.com