Why Lynch, Barber Struggle To Make Hall of Fame

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From the moment they retired, it seemed like Tampa Bay fans automatically assumed John Lynch and Ronde Barber would be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But it hasn’t happened yet. And it’s definitely not going to happen for Barber this year. He’s not even on the list of 15 finalists. Lynch is on that list, but he probably is a long shot to be elected when the voting is held Saturday in Atlanta.

That’s too bad because Lynch and Barber both had remarkable careers. I’m not saying they don’t belong in the Hall of Fame (I’d vote for them), but the deck is stacked against two of the greatest players in Tampa Bay history and there are a variety of reasons for that.

I’ve been a Hall of Fame voter three times, so I know what voters are looking for. I’m not allowed to discuss what any voters say – good or bad – about any specific candidate. But I can at least provide a general overview of what voters are looking for.

Let’s start with Lynch. His biggest disadvantage is the position he played – safety. Other than kickers and punters, safeties might have the most difficult time getting into the Hall of Fame.

At the moment, there are only nine true safeties that are in the Hall of Fame, although there’s also a few members that split time between cornerback and safety.

Is Lynch truly one of the best 10 safeties to ever play the game? Be honest. In terms of being a great guy, he’s one of the best people I’ve ever covered. But that doesn’t matter in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, like it does for the Baseball Hall of Fame, where voters often shoot down candidates on moral grounds.

In terms of being one of the hardest-hitting safeties in history, Lynch definitely makes any list. But being a nice guy and a hard hitter isn’t enough to get a safety into the Hall of Fame.

There’s really only one thing that matters for safeties. That’s how many interceptions they had and that’s where Lynch faces a huge obstacle. In 15 seasons, Lynch had 26 interceptions.

Kenny Easley’s 32 interceptions (and Easley only played seven seasons) are the fewest for any of the nine true safeties in the Hall of Fame. Now, Lynch does have an edge on Steve Atwater, another safety among this year’s finalists. Atwater only had 24 career interceptions. Like Lynch, Atwater was known as a bigger hitter, but not a ball hawk.

So you would think Lynch might have a decent shot to get in if Atwater was his only competition. But there’s the problem, Atwater is NOT Lynch’s only competition.

Ed Reed is standing in the way. In a very big way, as Reed has 64 interceptions. If one safety is going to get into the Hall of Fame this year, it will be Reed. If two safeties get in, Lynch has a chance. But, seriously, if only nine safeties have been elected to the Hall of Fame in all these years, do you think the odds of two safeties getting in during the same year are very good?

There’s also one other thing that works against Lynch and it also works against Barber. While they were viewed as royalty in Tampa Bay (not exactly a big market), the perspective on them everywhere else might have been a little different. That’s because they were overshadowed by teammates Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, who made the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Too many fans and media members, Sapp and Brooks were superstars, while Lynch and Barber were very good players.

And that view isn’t limited to fans and media. I once asked a former NFL coach whose team played against the Bucs regularly while Lynch and Barber were in their prime if they belong in the Hall of Fame.

He quickly said no on both of them. I asked why.

“They were both good players,’’ the former coach said. “But we never had to game plan for them. We only game planned for Brooks and Sapp.’’

That might summarize the big knock on Barber. Despite the fact that Barber has statistics that should make him a legitimate candidate, his success is viewed by many as a product of coach Tony Dungy’s famed Tampa Two defense.

He had 47 career interceptions and 28 sacks. No cornerback has ever put up as a high combination of numbers in those two categories. But Barber’s sack total may not carry a lot of weight in some eyes. Saying a guy is the best pass-rushing cornerback in history is somewhat like saying a guy who has the strongest throwing arm of any first baseman in baseball. It simply isn’t a big part of the job description for the position.

A lot of people think most of Barber’s sacks came because he was able to run free because of what Sapp, Brooks and Simeon Rice were doing in front of him. They might be right.

That’s not to say Lynch and Barber won’t get into the Hall of Fame at some point. Their statistics put them at least in the argument. And the fact they were part of some of the greatest defenses ever doesn’t hurt. But only one Super Bowl championship doesn’t work in their favor. Do you really put four guys from one championship team into the Hall of Fame?

When it comes to the Hall of Fame, the right thing usually happens in time. And that’s what Lynch and Barber may be facing. They might get in, but they’re going to have to hit it in the right year and that means they could be on the waiting list for a while.

 

Pat Yasinskas is an occasional contributor to Bucs Report. He has covered the NFL since 1993 and worked for two major newspapers and two major websites.
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