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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.

Why the New York Jets deserve the controversy, dysfunction surrounding them

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1. I think the Jets architecture job is not the one to take if you want to run a franchise, Peyton Manning. To be charitable, the Jets are not close to contention.

2. I think I won’t be the first to use this rationale for my opinion about what happened when Mike Maccagnan got dismissed the other day as Jets GM, but it’s the first thing that occurred to me: The Jets truly deserve this controversy. A few points:

• I have no sympathy for Maccagnan, who lorded over a 14-35 team since New Year’s Day 2016. Only Cleveland and San Francisco have won fewer games since then. But by my math, Maccagnan just spent $235 million in free agency this offseason, a gargantuan sum. He just had the keys to the draft and, apparently with minimal input from the head coach, made Quinnen Williams the third overall pick in the draft. He was fired 19 days after the draft. What owner in his right mind allows a GM he figures he may well fire run a crucial off-season? Christopher Johnson, that’s who.

• Adam Gase is going to have a major say on who becomes the next GM of the Jets. Gase was 23-26 in his three-year stint coaching the Dolphins, and, though the quarterback position was plagued by injuries while he was there, he’s supposed to be a quarterback guru, and the Dolphins, again, are starting from scratch at the position after firing Gase four-and-a-half months ago. I like Gase well enough. But what exactly has he done, first, to earn a head-coaching job after his three years in Miami … and, second, to play a significant role in picking the architect of the new Jets?

• I assume the reports of Gase not wanting Le’Veon Bell for $13.5 million a year are true. (I don’t blame him.) But the leaks in that building are never-ending, and in this case, the leaks could drive a wedge between a guy who doesn’t seem very happy to be a Jet in the first place, Bell, and the guy who’s going to be calling his number this fall. Gase better figure a way to tamp that down. I don’t know if he can.

• How do you have faith in the Jets to get this GM thing right now? And what smart GM-candidate type (Joe Douglas or Louis Riddick or Daniel Jeremiah) would want to take his one shot—because most GMs get one shot at running a team—working for Christopher Johnson?

• If I were Mike Greenberg, I’d be burying my head in my hands this morning, wondering why oh why did I get stuck loving this franchise? How can season-ticket-holders send in their money this year thinking they’re going to see the turnaround season of a team that’s won 5, 5, and 4 games the past three years?

• Sam Darnold doesn’t coach.

Read more from Football Morning in America here

The lessons Chris Long learned from playing with Patriots, Eagles, Rams

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Chris Long, who retired over the weekend after an 11-year NFL career that ended with two Super Bowl rings (in 2016 with New England and 2017 with Philadelphia), and an NFL Man of the Year Award (in 2018) for his work in U.S. social justice and building fresh-water wells for thousands in Africa, on the lessons he takes with him into retirement:

“I learned to never make a decision based on just one thing. The decision to retire was complicated. It was based on health, which is still very good, and family, we have two small children, and football fit, which includes a chance to win and my role and geography. Philadelphia is where I wanted to play a couple more years. I love Philadelphia. But as a player I learned the most important thing to me is Sunday, and having a chance to be a big part of it. It seemed like player-coach was kind of the role that was going to be carved out for me—maybe playing 10, 12, 15 plays a game. I’m a rhythm player. I need to set people up, I need to be in the flow of the game. If I sit on the bench for three series, I can’t get rhythm, and I’ll get cold and maybe I’ll hurt myself. Some people think that’s great—play less and you won’t get hurt. Man, I want to play ball. In Philadelphia, it didn’t seem there was much of a chance to compete there. But they were honest with me the whole time. I appreciate the honesty. I’ll always love Philadelphia and the Eagles, but I didn’t want Week 4, 5, to come around and people think, Whoa, where’s Chris? Did Chris retire? I’d rather do it this way than just fade out. And I didn’t want to start over again across the country somewhere.

“I learned so much in my career. Getting drafted second overall, and going to St. Louis, and the fact that we were losing, I just thought, I am not gonna fold. I am not a loser. I am gonna be a bright spot. I am gonna give these fans, who I deeply appreciate for their dedication, the respect they deserve . Anyone playing in that era in St. Louis knows how bad it was at times. It was carnage, in so many ways. It was a test of my will. Do I get irritated by the no-Pro Bowl thing, never making a Pro Bowl? Yeah, I do. Fifty sacks in the first six years, with no one watching, on a bad team. I just felt the narrative should be, That kid panned out. But that’s okay—it was a labor of love. I have zero regrets.

“In New England, I learned so much about football. I always thought I was a smart player, even though I never thought about anything but the six inches in front of my face. In New England, I was forced to learn so many schematic concepts. In my career playing football, nobody asked me to do as much as Bill Belichick did. I might be 3-technique, or a linebacker, or a linebacker dropping into coverage more than ever, or playing inside more than ever. I’ll always remember how much I learned watching Bill in practice. He can coach any position as good as any position coach in league. He can walk around the field and stop drills and coach each position—at the highest level. And the quality of the dudes. Solid men. The right kind of people.

“Tom Brady blew me away. Who’s the most famous athlete of our generation: Tom Brady? LeBron? Messi? Ronaldo? Serena Williams? Maybe I haven’t been around enough to know how the biggest stars really act. But Brady is a normal guy. When I got there, here comes Tom. ‘Hey Chris, I’m Tom, nice to meet you.’ Well, yeah, I know you’re Tom. A lot of people want to hate him for all the success, and I understand how you can dislike the Patriots, but I cannot understand how you can dislike Tom.

“That Super Bowl against Atlanta … when we were way behind, I’m thinking, ‘I waited my whole life to be here, and this is a nightmare. This is the worst nightmare I have ever had.’ If we lost that night, I very possibly would have retired a bitter man. But winning it breathed life into me.

“Going to Philadelphia, I felt I found a home. Best sports city in America. But how different my situation was. I went from team captain with the Rams two years before that to winning the Super Bowl in New England to starting on the bottom in Philly. I was an average Joe. I was challenged. I learned how much being a team, being together, really means. We were a case study for whatever you believe. Either we were an anomaly or we proved you could do good things and win in pro sports. We happened to have guys who were good players who cared. I remember winning a Monday Night Football game, falling asleep at 4 or 5 o’clock, and waking up for a train to Harrisburg to work with state legislators on policies. It just showed how much we could make changes in things that matter, and play really good football too. You can be a football player and a citizen. It’s gratifying when young players come up and say they’re inspired to do more because of things that Malcolm Jenkins or Torrey Smith have done, or me.

“I’ve always tried to be me first and a football player second. When I came into football, I didn’t want to be this piece of wreckage who couldn’t move or have a normal life. But I learned you can’t predict the future. I thought I’d play eight years. I thought I’d retire at 30. But I played 11, and now I’m 34.

“NFL Man of the Year … I never felt deserving of it. I am not the best person in the NFL. I never want to get up there promoting myself as some infallible person. I was very honored. But I was also conflicted that people saw me as this community service guy, not a player. Nobody saw me as the player I was in my prime. I don’t want to be known as Community Service Guy; I want to be known as a guy who busted his ass for 11 years at his craft. But I do appreciate the fact that people saw that I played for free for one year, that I was part of a group that built 61 wells for people to get fresh water in Africa, and that we’ve got 220,000 people drinking from our wells. I will not downplay that stuff. But I am not some angel, believe me. I don’t have a brand. My brand is me.

“Retirement is interesting. It is something I feared for a long time. It is an existential crisis. I’ve been doing something since high school, working toward a goal. I fantasize about crossing the threshold, but at the same time it’s something you can be deathly afraid of.

“I am excited about the next phase of life. I’m launching a digital media company. I will have my own pod. I’m just excited about being able to control the narrative. I like to create. Maybe I’ll work at a network. Whatever I do, I’ll be me.”

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