HOUSTON, Texas – We’ll meet Saturday morning, debating the lifetime achievements of LaDainian Tomlinson, Kurt Warner, John Lynch, Morten Andersen, Jerry Jones, Terrell Owens and a dozen others.
Who among the 15 modern-day finalists, two contributor candidates and one senior nominee will make the cut? It takes the approval of 80 percent of the 48-member Selection Committee – present company included – for an individual to be included in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017.
One thing we know: the Indianapolis Colts will be casual observers for the first time in four years. The franchise saw two luminaries enshrined in the Class of 2016 (Marvin Harrison and Tony Dungy) and another in the Class of 2015 (Bill Polian).
When we debated the Class of 2014, the merits of Harrison and Dungy were discussed for the first time. It took three years for them to garner enough support.
Edgerrin James was a modern-day finalist last year. He didn’t survive the first reduction to 10 12 months ago, and wasn’t able to make this year’s cut to 15 modern-day finalists. That might have been a byproduct of Tomlinson being eligible for the first time, with the former San Diego Chargers standout joining Terrell Davis as running backs under consideration.
We expect James to return next year.
A quick look at Colts who have retired and deserve consideration:
QB Peyton Manning
- Eligible: Class of 2021
- Case for: Where do we start? Two-time Super Bowl champ. The NFL’s only five-time MVP. All-time record holder with 539 touchdown passes and 71,940 yards. Owner of single-season records with 55 TDs and 5,477. You get the idea.
- Case against: Please.
RB Edgerrin James
- Eligible: Now.
- Case for: Ranks 12th in league history with 12,246 rushing yards and 14th with 15,610 total yards from scrimmage. Two-time league rushing champion and four-time Pro Bowl selection. One of four players to rush for at least 1,500 yards in four seasons. Defied odds by doing it twice before suffering ACL injury in 2001 and twice after. Holds Colts’ rushing records for yards in a career (9,226), a season (1,709) and a game (219).
- Case against: The perception is James benefited from playing with Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and so many other high-profile offensive stars. However, Manning insists it was James’ high-quality versatility – runner, receiver, blocker – that made the Colts’ offense perform at such a high level.
WR Reggie Wayne
- Eligible: Class of 2020
- Case for: Ranks 10th in NFL history in both receptions (1,070) and yards (14,345), and Wayne’s regular-season productivity carried over to the playoffs. Ranks 2nd to Jerry Rice with 93 receptions and 4th with 1,254 yards in the postseason. His 221-yard outing against Denver in the 2004 playoffs is the fourth-fattest single-game total. Appeared in a club-record 211 regular-season games. Selected to six Pro Bowls. Caught at least 100 passes in four seasons. Appeared in two Super Bowls and has one diamond-studded championship ring.
- Case against: The receiver competition is fierce and there’s no end in sight. Saturday’s discussion includes Owens and Isaac Bruce. Soon, Randy Moss joins the mix that already includes Torry Holt and Hines Ward. Then Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, Steve Smith and Larry Fitzgerald. One season should weigh heavily in Wayne’s favor. When Manning missed the 2011 season with his neck issues, Wayne still caught 75 passes for 960 yards. His QBs: Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky.
LB/DE Robert Mathis
- Eligible: Class of 2022
- Case for: His 123 sacks are the 18th-most in NFL history and a Colts record. His 47 sacks/forced fumbles are an NFL record. Registered double-digit sacks five times and led the NFL with a club-record 19.5 in 2013. Like Wayne, selected to six Pro Bowls. Like Wayne, appeared in two Super Bowls and has one world title on his resume.
- Case against: Like with Wayne, there will be a deep pool of deserving pass-rush candidates, all of whom have more career sacks than Mathis: Julius Peppers (143.5), Jason Taylor (139.5), DeMarcus Ware (138.5), Jared Allen (136), John Abraham (133.5). And let’s not forget Dwight Freeney, Mathis’ long-time sidekick.
C Jeff Saturday
- Eligible: Class of 2018
- Case for: Six-time Pro Bowl selection and the interior anchor for an offensive line that was so critical to the success enjoyed by the Manning-led Colts during the 2000s. Saturday ranks 6th in team history with 197 regular-season games, and he and Manning shared 170 starts, an NFL record for a quarterback-center tandem. Off the field was instrumental in the resolution of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement.
- Case against: It’s always difficult to quantify why this center or that guard or another tackle is more deserving. On top of that, left tackle is the glamour position.