Father Time comes calling for every great National Football League star regardless of his skill. As much as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady may not want to admit it in the fall of 2018, even he, the greatest offensive CEO in pro football history, will have to hang his cleats up, for good. Obviously, there is no debate necessary as it pertains to the Hall of Fame credentials belonging to Brady. If not for a silly rule that should sometimes be ignored, except for when somebody repeatedly returns from retirement (looking at you, Brett Favre), Brady would have his day in Canton the same year he called time on his career.
Not every NFL star who recently retired is headed to the Hall of Fame. Some fall just short of supposed criteria, while others, simply stated, weren’t elite when compared with others, even if they were stars and beloved among pockets of fans. Hall of Fame debates make for interesting sports talk radio conversations and for discussions in comments sections because voters are human and, thus, sometimes change their minds about who is or isn’t a Hall of Famer in any given year. Terrell Owens had to wait to earn induction into the Hall of Fame for reasons that had nothing to do with the numbers that he produced as one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play that position.
20 Won’t make the Hall of Fame: Carson Palmer
In January 2018, Matt Bonesteel of the Washington Post asked if quarterback Carson Palmer, who retired following the end of the 2017 campaign, deserved to be in the Hall of Fame or in the “Hall of Very Good.” No disrespect meant to Palmer, but it’s the latter. Palmer’s passing statistics make for a solid Hall of Fame resume, and they’d be even better had injuries not cost him roughly three years of his career. Unlike other signal-callers in the Hall, Palmer was never the best in the business. He doesn’t have a single Hall of Fame moment, while Eli Manning has two and two Super Bowl MVP trophies. It’s a no for Palmer.
19 Won’t make the Hall of Fame: Antonio Cromartie
When the San Diego Chargers used a first-round pick on cornerback Antonio Cromartie in 2006, the club likely hoped he would become a shutdown cornerstone of the secondary for years to come. The Chargers traded him to the New York Jets in March 2010, however, all eventually saw Cromartie’s best days in the league were to follow that transaction. He retired in March 2018 with 31 regular-season interceptions on his resume, an impressive number but not anything that jumps off the page. Ten of those picks occurred during his second campaign in the NFL. Cromartie was worth the draft pick in the long run, but he won’t make the Hall of Fame.
18 Headed to the Hall of Fame: Joe Thomas
One could almost feel sorry for former Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas. Drafted in 2007, Thomas spent the majority of his career playing for losing teams and blocking for guys who never became franchise quarterbacks for a club looking for such a player since it returned to the NFL in 1999. Thomas, who was arguably the greatest left tackle in the history of the game retired following the 2017 season, only to then become a spectator and watch as rookie Baker Mayfield shined under center for the Browns in a few starts. It’s too early to crown Mayfield as the franchise savior, but it isn’t too soon to realize Thomas will be in the Hall of Fame soon.
17 Won’t make the Hall of Fame: DeMarco Murray
Following his third season in the NFL, running back DeMarco Murray was quietly journeying down a path toward earning some Hall of Fame votes. Murray rushed for over 1,000 yards three times between 2013 and 2016, and there were rumors in the early stages of the summer of 2018 that the 30-year-old wanted to land a role with a championship-caliber team. Instead of waiting for the preseason to begin, Murray went on ESPN to announce that he was retiring. The talent was certainly there for Murray to have a special career, but we are not even sure that he would qualify for a Hall of Very Good.
16 Won’t make the Hall of Fame: Josh Cribbs
As Daryl Ruiter of CBS Cleveland explained in March 2017, Josh Cribbs, who retired at that time, is the best kick returner in the history of the Cleveland Browns, and he holds multiple franchise records. Yes, Cribbs was an excellent special-teams player of his era, but his dominance as a returner who could burn teams in the blink of an eye really only lasted five years. Cribbs was never Devin Hester, who was widely seen as the greatest returner in NFL history. Cleveland fans will always fondly remember their own, but that won’t be enough for Cribbs to have his day in the Hall of Fame.
15 Headed to the Hall of Fame: Jason Witten
It’s slightly unfair to compare former Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten to Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez and Rob Gronkowski. All three were, in their primes, freakish athletes, and one is probably the greatest play-making tight end in the history of the league. Witten not being the G.O.A.T. shouldn’t, and won’t, prevent him from making the Hall of Fame. After he retired earlier this year, the previously mentioned Gonzalez said that he believed Witten should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. We can’t say that will definitely be the case, but Witten will be given a gold jacket at some point over the next decade.
14 Won’t make the Hall of Fame: James Harrison
A Super Bowl highlight and workouts that went viral on Instagram won’t be enough to land James Harrison into the Hall of Fame. After the linebacker retired following the 2017 season, Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explained that Harrison may be a Pittsburgh all-time great, but Canton won’t come calling for him. Per Cook, Harrison will be among the greatest Steelers to not make the Hall, along with players such as Hines Ward. Harrison had a few great years, but he was more consistent than elite for the bulk of his playing days. Regardless of what he offered teammates behind the scenes and inside of locker rooms, he doesn’t have the numbers to make the Hall of Fame.
13 Won’t make the Hall of Fame: Matt Forte
Somebody looking to make the case that Matt Forte deserves to be in the Hall of Fame may point to the number of total offensive yards he produced. That’s all well and good, but he fell just shy of 10,000 rushing yards, and that is the line that separates talented individuals from those who receive gold jackets. Five 1,000-rushing yards seasons are nothing to sneeze at, and he should be praised for playing a grueling position from 2008 through 2017. There’s a difference between being one of the better producers of your time and one of the top players at your position for an entire decade.
12 Headed to the Hall of Fame: Calvin Johnson
What those who would suggest that Calvin Johnson is not worthy of being voted into the Hall of Fame for whatever reasons should remember is that "Megatron" was still a top-five player at the position, at absolute worst, when he shocked the NFL community and retired in March 2016 at the age of 30. Johnson only would have built upon his resume had he remained in the league for a few additional seasons. In his nine NFL campaigns, Johnson topped 11 touchdown receptions on four occasions, and he still, as of the typing of this sentence, has the record for the most receiving yards in a single season.
11 Won’t make the Hall of Fame: Andre Johnson
Voter trends, the pass-happy nature of the NFL, and the fact that league rules benefit passing attacks more and more with each year will all make it difficult for Andre Johnson to earn enough votes for a Hall of Fame induction. Unlike Calvin, Andre never had the reputation for being a “Megatron”-like game-changer. He wasn’t a force such as Steve Smith. Those who aren’t diehard fans of the Texans would struggle thinking of a significant performance, such as one that occurred during a January game, produced by Johnson. He should be in the Texans Hall of Fame but not the Pro Football Hall.
10 Won’t make the Hall of Fame: Justin Tuck
The New York Giants would not have beaten the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII without the play of defensive end Justin Tuck. He earned a second ring when the Giants notched a victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. Add in two Pro Bowl seasons and four impressive campaigns, and you’ve got an excellent career that will keep Tuck a fan-favorite among Giants supporters long after his retirement that occurred in the spring of 2016. This isn’t a popularity contest, though, and Tuck doesn’t possess the overall stats to even flirt with making it into the Hall of Fame at any point down the road.
9 Headed to the Hall of Fame: Darrelle Revis
After cornerback Darrelle Revis retired earlier this year, ESPN analysts debated if he should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Spoiler: Yes, yes he should. Granted, some may not have loved how Revis became more of a businessman than a Pro Bowl player later in his career, but the fact that he earned massive paydays shouldn’t take away that he was a shutdown corner at a time when league rules made it difficult for any defensive back to get to that level. The seven-time Pro Bowler could have excelled in any era, and the owner of Revis Island should receive a gold jacket as soon as he is eligible.
8 Won’t make the Hall of Fame: Antrel Rolle
Safety Antrel Rolle seemed on the cusp of becoming even more special than he was with the Arizona Cardinals when he made his first Pro Bowl roster months ahead of signing with the New York Giants in March 2010. Rolle, who retired in the fall of 2016, went on to make two other Pro Bowl squads, and he won a Super Bowl championship with Big Blue. Much like with Harrison, however, Rolle was good for a long period of time, but was truly only great, as it pertains to earning Hall of Fame votes, for a handful of seasons. Giants fans will always view Rolle as one of their own for helping the team win a title.
7 Won’t make the Hall of Fame: Nick Mangold
Mangold is another candidate for the Hall of Very Good rather than the Hall of Fame. As Darryl Slater of NJ.com wrote in April 2018, the center who spent his entire career with the New York Jets and who retired earlier this year isn’t even the best Gang Green center who is not yet in Canton. Making the Hall as a center is difficult, yes, and Mangold was a consistent force up front who earned seven Pro Bowl nods. Was he ever the Joe Thomas of his position? Even the most passionate of Jets fans would have to admit Mangold was not at that high of a level.
6 Headed to the Hall of Fame: Vince Wilfork
For starters, Vince Wilfork is clearly a lock for the New England Patriots Hall of Fame. The five-time Pro Bowler should also be a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame regardless of numbers. Go back and watch Wilfork in his prime, and you’ll see one of the best defensive tackles of his era who clogged lanes and who ate-up blocking assignments and made getting into the backfield easier for those around him. Wilfork’s job was to do the dirty work that doesn’t get recognition among casual fans and doesn’t show up on box scores. He did just that as good as anybody throughout the 2000s.
5 Won’t make the Hall of Fame: Richie Incognito
NFL fans will remember Richie Incognito for reasons that have little to do with his play on the field. The issues that threatened his career and an incident that occurred inside of a funeral home in the summer of 2018 immediately come to mind. Technically, the 35-year-old got himself removed from the reserve/retired list, meaning that a team could pursue the five-time Pro Bowl guard. That’s not happening for a plethora of reasons, and he is retired whether he realizes it or not. The reality here is that Incognito’s well-being is far more important than any future he has in the league. Here’s hoping he finds peace, and any necessary help, away from the game.
4 Won’t make the Hall of Fame: Kam Chancellor
Seattle Seahawks safety and former Legion of Boom member Kam Chancellor was forced into retirement earlier this year because of a neck injury that will prevent him from playing for any NFL team in the future. Chancellor was one of the stars of a defense that should have won more than a single Super Bowl, but the four-time Pro Bowler was never a first-team All-Pro, nor does he have any stats that would force the hands of voters. He’s one of the better players of the 2010s, but others from his era, and possibly from his team, will make the Hall of Fame ahead of him.
3 Headed to the Hall of Fame: DeMarcus Ware
Defensive end DeMarcus Ware retired after the 2017 regular season, and he is, as of October 2018, eighth all-time in career sacks. The question is not if Ware will be in the Hall of Fame; there’s no doubt about it. In March 2017, ESPN’s Jeff Legwold wrote that Ware has a case to be a first-ballot inductee. He posted at least 10 sacks in eight of nine seasons during his 12-year career, and Wade Phillips said that Ware “is absolutely a Hall of Famer just as soon as he can go in.” Ware may want to be more careful on Dancing with the Stars, but that’s a different matter for a different piece.
2 Won’t make the Hall of Fame: Tony Romo
In March 2018, Michael Strawn of Blogging the Boys made the case for why Tony Romo is not a Hall of Famer. While Romo may be the best regular season quarterback to ever feature for the Dallas Cowboys, his resume is overshadowed by those possessed by Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers. Romo also does not have the Super Bowl rings and Super Bowl MVP trophies earned by Eli Manning during Manning’s Hall of Fame career. The current television commentator could go down as the patron saint of the Hall of Very Good, but he should not, and will not, make it into Canton.
1 Headed to the Hall of Fame: Peyton Manning
Even those who may have somehow accidentally stumbled upon this piece probably realize that Peyton Manning will be in the Hall of Fame as soon as he is eligible. The two-time Super Bowl champion is the greatest regular season quarterback in NFL history, even if Drew Brees is working on breaking some of Manning’s records, and Manning appeared in a pair of Super Bowl contests with two different franchises. Manning may never be the G .O.A.T. because of the Super Bowl titles won by Tom Brady and Joe Montana. Going into the Hall of Fame as a member of the 2021 class will have to suffice.