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NFL finally adjusted to the modern game with 2019 Hall of Fame class

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Moral of the story to the eight-man class for the 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame: We’re finally catching up to how the game of this new century is being played. In the last three classes, the Hall’s 48 selectors (I am one) have elected six defensive backs (safeties Kenny Easley, Brian Dawkins, Ed Reed, Johnny Robinson, and corners Ty Law and Champ Bailey) who have played in the modern era, which we define as post-1960. In the previous four classes, only one DB (Aeneas Williams) was enshrined. That’s progress … and I thought Denver safety Steve Atwater had a heck of a shot to make it after our discussions in the 7-hour, 41-minute meeting Saturday in downtown Atlanta.

It’s the first time in Hall history that a class has included four men who played the defensive backfield exclusively. I saw Williams, class of 2014, Sunday morning at my hotel, and asked him his reaction to the DB-heavy class of 2019. “You mean besides jumping up and down, celebrating?” he said. “I love it. It shows the recognition of what an arduous task it is to play in the defensive backfield, and how important it is to winning in modern football.”

Speaking of arduous tasks, this year’s election process was brutal. I thought at least 13 of the 15 modern-era candidates were excellent candidates. Takeaways from a long and rewarding day in the voting room at the Georgia World Congress Center:

• The offensive line logjam got busted up. As a group, I got the sense that we went into the room trying to get in at least one of the four deserving offensive lineman (Tony Boselli, Alan Faneca, Steve Hutchinson, Kevin Mawae), and I hoped they wouldn’t all cannibalize each other. Mawae made it—confirming the respect the committee has for all-decade players; he was the first-team all-decade center for the 2000s, and each of the previous four first-team all-decade centers had previously been elected. An ironman, he played every game in 12 of his 16 seasons, and he was a Pro Bowler at 37 and 38. I do think Boselli will make it, despite playing only 97 games (recent inductees Kenny Easley and Terrell Davis played fewer), and I also think it’s a matter of time for Faneca and Hutchinson. No zits on their records.

• Just a guess, but I think Law edged Atwater. Both players have Hall of Fame résumés. I feel for Atwater, who failed in his 15th year of eligibility but had tremendous support in the room. It was Law’s fifth year eligible, and I think his big plays in huge games in the early Patriots dynasty (his 47-yard pick-six in the first New England Super Bowl win, over St. Louis, and his three interceptions of Peyton Manning in the AFC title game prior to the second Super Bowl win) propelled him. We are not privy to vote counts, but I bet Atwater was quite close to Law.

• Tony Gonzalez and Ed Reed, as suspected, were easy. Combined time of discussion for Reed and Gonzalez: eight minutes.

• Rick Gosselin is a big impact player in the progress of defensive players. You may not know Gosselin, a longtime sports columnist, NFL writer and Hall of Fame voter based in Dallas. But for years, he’s kept exacting statistics about the Hall, and he’s harped on the imbalance between offense and defense in Canton. He was thrilled Saturday night that the defensive numbers of modern-era candidates have now crept up over 40 percent. (There have been 236 modern-era players enshrined, 138 on offense, 95 on defense and three on special teams … which continues to shrink the offensive edge. Now it’s 58.5 percent offense and 40.2 percent defense. That includes 30 defensive backs now and 27 wide receivers. Kudos to Gosselin for harping on this, and making us keep it in mind as we vote. We can’t discuss outside the room what is said inside the room, but suffice to say Gosselin was superb in the case of Seniors candidate Johnny Robinson—who became only the third AFL-era defensive back to make the Hall.

• Love fest for Gil Brandt. I wasn’t positive Brandt would make it; as a Contributors subcommittee nominee, he wasn’t competing against the 15 modern era candidates, but rather needed a simple 80 percent of the room (at least 38 of 48 voters) to say yes for him to make it. This was the one time I felt, sitting there listening to the Brandt discussions, “I wish someone was recording this and could play it for Brandt, just to realize the impact he’s has on so many aspects of football.” To me, Brandt has spanned 75 percent of the NFL’s 99-year history: He got his first job in football, a part-time scouting job with the Rams, in 1955 at the urging of Rams star Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, who knew Brandt from shared acquaintances in their Wisconsin home area. Hirsch was a first-round NFL pick in 1945, a Hall of Famer who got Brandt his start in scouting/writing/combine-czaring/radio-hosting, a career now entering its 64th year.

• On Tom Flores. Lots of online queries from Tom Flores fans. A few things: The two Super Bowl victories are a major plus in his candidacy and could get him enshrined one day. But I think he’s hurt by his three-year record in Seattle (14-34) and the perception that he was a caretaker with the Raiders, took over a team that was 33-11 in the three seasons preceding him—and did an excellent job piloting a ship between Oakland and Los Angeles, but that it wasn’t enough, particularly with the strong modern-era class he was competing against. The Hall may consider a separate coaches category at some point, which also could help Flores.

• My ballots. The voting system works this way: We vote yes or no on Seniors and Contributors candidates. I voted yes on Pat Bowlen, Gil Brandt and Johnny Robinson. On the 15 modern-era candidates, we first cut to 10 by secret ballot. Then the top 10 is tabulated, and we cut to five by secret ballot. Then the top five are tabulated, and we vote yes or no in secret on each of the five, one by one. My cut to 10: Atwater, Bailey, Boselli, Faneca, Gonzalez, Edgerrin James, Law, John Lynch, Mawae, Reed. My cut to five: Atwater, Bailey, Gonzalez, Law, Reed. I voted yes on all five of the finalists.

Two teams are set to dominate the 2019 NFL Draft: Patriots and…the Raiders?

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The owner of the 2019 NFL Draft? Oakland, with rookie GM Mike Mayock, who counts Bill Belichick as one of his best friends in football.

The power broker, potentially, of the 2019 NFL Draft? New England, which will have the ammo to move up, down and sideways—and Belichick has always loved wheeling and dealing on draft weekend.

The Raiders have four picks in the top 35. The Patriots have one pick in the top 55. But that’s a misleading part of the story. There’s great depth in this draft from pick 25 to 100 and even deeper, some scouts at the Senior Bowl thought. So there could be fine value in the Patriot picks when they are slated to choose five times in a 45-pick span from 56 to 101.

Raiders and Patriots picks in the top 110 overall choices of the draft, as of today:

• New England: 1st round, 32nd overall; 2-56; 2-64; 3-73; 3-97^; 3-101^

• Oakland: 1st round, 4th overall; 1-24; 1-27; 2-35; 3-66; 4-106

^ Projected compensatory picks for the losses of Nate Solder and Malcolm Butler in free agency, as calculated by Over the Cap’s Nick Korte.

Read more from Peter King’s Football Morning in America by clicking here

Bengals coach Zac Taylor has had no time to process the Rams’ crushing Super Bowl LIII loss

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Don’t you always wonder what it’s like for a man to coach in the Super Bowl, then, a day or two later, get introduced as the new coach of Team X? It’s crazy. Happened twice last week. The Patriots found it odd that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was in their Atlanta lobby at 9 a.m. Monday, 5.5 hours after the Super Bowl victory party ended, to ferry new coach Brian Flores (ex-Patriots defensive coordinator) to south Florida to be introduced as coach Monday afternoon. Zac Taylor had a few more hours to get his family to Cincinnati. The former Rams quarterback coach’s introductory press conference was Tuesday.

So it was interesting to hear Taylor’s reaction over the weekend when I asked him: “How disappointing was it to play the way your offense played in the Super Bowl?”

“I haven’t had a chance to process it, quite honestly,” he said from Cincinnati. “There just hasn’t been time. I haven’t watched the game. Honestly, I’m conflicted. It’s devastating to work so hard to get to the championship game, and for your entire team to pour everything they’ve got into it, and then to lose like that.

“But five or six hours after the game, I’m on a plane to Cincinnati, on the way to fulfill a dream I’ve had for so long—to be a head coach in the NFL. And then your brain goes there. It’s just … it’s just the way it is, and you’ve got to turn the page.”

There was some discomfort in his voice, bordering on pain. It’s easy to sit back and say, Buck up, buddy. You’re about to make millions to coach a football team. True, but if you’ve been a football coach for a while, and you help your team get to the Super Bowl, regardless of the outcome, it’s got to be odd to just walk out the door a few hours after the biggest game of all of your lives, no time to process or adjust, and you move on while everyone else wallows.

One other question. I asked Taylor if he’d had much of a chance to consider how close the Rams came to taking a lead with four minutes left in the third quarter, when Jason McCourty, panic-stricken, ran 20 yards in 2.4 seconds (per NFL Next Gen Stats) to bat a decisive touchdown away from Brandin Cooks in the back of the end zone. If Jared Goff was a millisecond quicker with his throw, the touchdown would have given LA a 7-3 lead and put huge pressure on New England. Instead, the Rams settled for a field goal to tie it, 3-3.

Taylor: Sigh.

“In football, you just miss by inch sometimes,” he said. “You can be an inch from … “

Sigh again.

“That’s football in a nutshell. That’s football.”

I thought that would be it from Taylor, but he brightened, as his mentor Sean McVay would have. Taylor continued, “Criticism, pressure, adversity. We want our staff and our players to understand that this is the NFL. This is why you do this job. The energy, the camaraderie, can’t be duplicated, except maybe at the craps table in Vegas when you’re on a roll.”

The Bengals have needed some energy, and an offensive spur. I’m looking forward to seeing what Taylor can provide.

Read more from Peter King’s Football Morning in America by clicking here