On Saturday, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee will meet to whittle a list of 15 finalists down to a maximum of five modern-era figures to form the Hall's Class of 2020. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety John Lynch is one of those finalists, as he has been for each of the last seven years. Thirteen of the other 14 people who have ever reached that stage for seven consecutive years are now in the Hall of Fame.
Interestingly, four of the 15 finalists are former safeties, including first-year-eligible candidate Troy Polamalu. Former Denver Bronco Steve Atwater was named a finalist for a third time, though not consecutively, and former Green Bay Packer LeRoy Butler is a finalist for the first time though he's been eligible since 2007.
Though the safety position has been historically under-represented in the Hall of Fame, that has started to change in recent years. Each of the last three Hall classes has included a safety: Kenny Easley in 2017, Brian Dawkins in 2018 and Ed Reed last year. Easley, who played in the 1980s, was chosen by the Seniors Committee.
However, there has still never been a year in which two safeties were chosen for the same Hall of Fame class. The 2020 field of candidates would seem to offer an excellent chance at that happening for the first time. Among the seven candidates who are finalists for the first time, Polamalu is widely considered the most likely to be chosen. He and wide receiver Reggie Wayne are the only two first-year-eligible finalists this year. If Polamalu does get the call from Canton, it would only take one more of the five spots for Lynch, Atwater or Butler to make it the biggest safety class ever. Obviously, the Buccaneers and their fans (not to mention the Broncos, for whom Lynch played his last four years), are hoping Lynch is the choice.
In case you are wondering, it is not unusual for Hall of Fame classes to contain multiple players at one position. In fact, considering only modern-era selections (of which, again, there are a maximum of five every year), there have been positional double-ups in each of the last three years. In fact, there were two of them in 2018.
- Class of 2019: Cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Ty Law
- Class of 2018: Wide Receivers Randy Moss and Terrell Owens
- Class of 2018: Linebackers Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher
- Class of 2017: Running backs Terrell Davis and LaDainian Tomlinson
It's worth noting that all but one of those examples is a pairing of one first-year-eligible player and one who had been a finalist for multiple years. The exception is the linebacker duo of Lewis and Urlacher two years ago.
So, fingers crossed. Now on to your questions.
A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"What if John Lynch gets in the Hall of Fame while prepping for the Super Bowl? Has that ever happened before?"
-@philschwadron via Instagram
Incredible, huh? A rare achievement, for sure, and now also consider this: John is in Miami for these two events. Before he convinced Sam Wyche that his true love was football and was thus selected by the Buccaneers in the third round in 1993, Lynch was already playing a professional sport. A power pitcher, he was in the farm system for the brand-new Florida Marlins, now known as the Miami Marlins; in fact, he threw out the very first pitch for that entire franchise. Lynch is no stranger to big games being held in familiar places. He and the Buccaneers won Super Bowl XXXVII in January of 2003 in San Diego and the team's residence for the week was the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines resort. Lynch was a star athlete at Torrey Pines High School.
Anyway, to your question I see that you didn't really specify if Lynch is the first NFL general manager in this situation, and that's helpful to me because it gives me a very recent example. On February 3, 2018, former star safety Brian Dawkins learned that he had been selected to be part of the Hall of Fame's Class of 2018. At the time, Dawkins was a football operations executive for the Philadelphia Eagles, for whom he had played the first 13 of his 16 NFL seasons.
That was a Saturday. The next day, Dawkins' team faced the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII. You may remember that one for its 300 points and 6,000 yards. (I'm approximating; I didn't look it up.) The Eagles prevailed in that shootout, 41-33. What a weekend for Mr. Dawkins.
It's not that rare for a Hall of Fame finalist to be selected for induction the day before a team he was closely associated with plays in the Super Bowl. Dawkins is one example, as was former Patriots cornerback Ty Law last year. Randy Moss and Terrell Owens obviously played for a number of teams each, but they could each claim sides in the aforementioned Patriots-Eagles Super Bowl the day after they were selected for the Class of 2018. Kevin Greene had a good reason to be in Santa Clara on Super Bowl 50 weekend in February of 2016. He made that year's Hall class on Saturday and then watched his former Carolina Panthers play Denver on Sunday. And so on.
Here's a near-miss that involves Tampa: In February of 2009 the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals met in Super XLIII, which was played at Raymond James Stadium. At the time, Dick LeBeau was the Steelers' defensive coordinator and Russ Grimm was the Cardinals' offensive line coach. That weekend, Grimm was one of the 15 finalists for the Hall's Class of 2009; it was his fifth time on that list. He wasn't selected then, but both he and LeBeau were chosen a year later for the Class of 2010 (LeBeau as a Seniors Committee choice).
Two other general managers I explored: John Elway and Ozzie Newsome. Elway wasn't close – he was elected to the Hall in 2004 but didn't become the Broncos' G.M. until 2011. Newsome is a little closer. He went into the Hall in 1999 and he was a Ravens executive at the time, but Baltimore was two years away from its Super Bowl XXXV win…also, coincidentally, in Tampa. He also wasn't the G.M. until 2002.
Bill Walsh? Nope. He was at Stanford in 1993 when he got the call from the Hall. Tex Schramm? No again. He was the Cowboys' general manager for 30 years, up to 1989, and his teams did win two Super Bowls and lose three others, but his Hall of Fame selection came two years after he retired and two years before the Cowboys' next Super Bowl win.
I really didn't find another situation like this one, Phil. I can't claim this is an absolutely exhaustive answer because there could be some Hall of Famers that were general managers that I'm not aware of. But it's quite possible that John is in a very unique situation this weekend. Did I mention crossing our fingers?
"What are some legitimate goals for next season?"
- @alex.ortiz_91 via Instagram
I could channel my inner coach here and say the only legitimate goal the Buccaneers should have heading into 2020 is to win the Super Bowl. And I do honestly believe that's the way Bruce Arians and his staff will be thinking.
But that's using the word in a different way than I think you mean. I used it as if to say, the only goal a team should legitimately have is to win it all. I think you mean, some goals we might legitimately expect to be achieved. That won't change the answer for Arians and company or for many of us? Why shouldn't we legitimately expect that goal to be achieved?
But let's approach this the way I think you really mean, Alex. Sure, the Bucs might win Super Bowl LV – which, by the way, would be incredible because the game will be held in Tampa – but so might the Indianapolis Colts. There are 32 teams and only one of them can achieve this goal, so it's not exactly a likely occurrence for any team. Yes, even the Patriots. I think we can acknowledge the not-high odds of that happening without it be insulting towards any Buccaneer player, coach or administrator.
What I think you mean are incremental goals that I truly believe have a good chance of happening. Here's a few:
1. A reduction in turnovers. Whether Jameis Winston is back and he reduces his interceptions or the Buccaneers have a new starter under center, this is one area that has to improve for the Bucs to win more consistently, and I believe it will. It's just too important not to be a focal point for the entire offseason. And it almost has to get better. The Buccaneers' 41 giveaways in 2019 were the worst in the NFL by a margin of six and it was the highest total for a Tampa Bay team since 1991. Imagine if the Buccaneers cut that number in half (roughly); 20 or 21 giveaways would have still only ranked in the middle of the league last year but that would be a gigantic improvement over 2019.
2. A more consistent kicking game. I believe in this one, too, because I think the Bucs are essentially there already. If you look at the final numbers, rookie Matt Gay made 77.1% of his field goals (27 of 35), which put the Bucs at 22nd in the NFL. That's better than it has been in recent years – it's actually the highest the Bucs have ranked in that category since 2014 – but still not where the team wants to be. But for most of the season, Gay was very reliable. He had the one devastating miss at the end of regulation that kept the Bucs from beating the Giants in Week Three, but with three weeks left in the season he had made 24 of his 27 field goal attempts. That is good enough. A three-game slump in which he missed five of eight to close out the season pushed his percentage down but I think Gay can be that kicker he was for most of his rookie season.
3. A better record in close games. The Bucs finished 7-9 last year but six of those nine losses came by seven points or fewer. The Buccaneers were 3-6 in such games, and they were just 5-4 when leading after the fourth quarter. Over the last three years, Tampa Bay is 9-19 in games decided by seven points or fewer and 4-10 in games decided by three points or fewer. The Bucs' defense turned around in a big way in the second half and if Todd Bowles's crew can play like that for an entire season we should see some more fourth-quarter leads protected. Also, if the first two goals above are reached it's going to make it a lot easier to achieve this one.
"What's the biggest score line you've ever had?"
- @alfie_lake via Instagram
Your wording confuses me a bit, Alfie. If you're asking me the most points the Buccaneers have ever scored in a game, that would be the 55 they put on the Rams in Week Four of this past season, in a 55-40 decision. That's also the highest combined number of points ever in a Buccaneers. If you mean the most points the Bucs have ever scored in a season, that was also this past year – 458. That blew away the Bucs' one-year-old record of 396 points from 2018.
If you mean individual scoring records, Doug Martin and Jimmie Giles have the two four-touchdown games in team history, for the shared record of 24 points in one contest. Martin scored four times on the ground against Oakland on November 4, 2012, and Giles caught four touchdown passes against Miami on October 20, 1985. The team's individual scoring record for a season is held by kicker Matt Bryant, who racked up 131 points in 2008. Among non-kickers, James Wilder's 78 points in 1984 is the team record.
If you mean me, I think I scored five runs in one game for the Bucs' staff softball team back in the '90s. My memory is shaky on that, though, so don't hold me to it.
Can you tell me what happened with V. Hargreaves and the Buccs. They drafted him so high only to move on? Was there something else going on? I never learn why these happen until well after the fact.
Tampa Bay Fan via PA. (via email to email@example.com)
Well, to be fair Leon, the team drafted Vernon Hargreaves in 2016 and just moved on halfway through the 2019 season, three-and-a-half years later. This wasn't exactly a sudden thing. Also, this kind of thing isn't at all uncommon around the league; just look at that 2016 draft. The Buccaneers took Hargreaves 12th overall, one pick after the Giants took cornerback Eli Apple. Apple was out of New York before Hargreaves was out of Tampa. Five of the first 15 picks in that draft are already with new teams.
Also consider this: Hargreaves' departure from the Buccaneers might have only been a couple months earlier than expected. As a first-round pick, the former Florida Gator got the standard four-year deal with a team option for a fifth season in 2020. The Buccaneers did exercise that option in the spring of 2019, and at the time Arians expressed confidence in Hargreaves' ability to shine in a more press-heavy defensive scheme. That fifth-year option is only guaranteed for injury, though, so the Buccaneers were not necessarily locked in for 2020. Given that we know now that at some point the team decided it was best to move on, it seems obvious Hargreaves would not have been back in 2020 even if the team had kept him on the roster through the rest of 2019.
Of course, you almost never get an official answer on this kind of thing as there isn't much for a team to gain by publicly enumerating the reasons a match with a certain player didn't work out. In fact, this is what General Manager Jason Licht said in a statement released by the team on the day Hargreaves was waived:
"After thoughtful consideration over the past few weeks, Coach Arians and I came to the conclusion that we needed to make this change. Decisions such as this are always difficult, but I felt it was in the best interest of our team to part ways with Vernon at this time and allow him to explore other opportunities. We are disappointed that it did not work out here for Vernon and we wish him continued success moving forward."
Arians also had his usual Wednesday press conference that day and answered the first Hargreaves question by stating that Licht's statement said it all. In the Bucs' win over Arizona three days earlier, in which Hargreaves was replaced on defense at one point, Arians did mention that he didn't believe the cornerback was hustling to make a tackle on one breakaway play. That may or may not have been a factor in the roster move but it definitely would have been just one very small piece of the puzzle.
In the end, Leon, I think it's pretty simple. The Buccaneers had drafted four cornerbacks in the first three rounds of the previous two drafts, including two by a new coaching staff in 2019. They hadn't had particularly good results in the secondary in the first half of the season, and that had been a problem area in recent years, as well. I think Arians and his staff decided it was time to focus on the younger players – not that Hargreaves was particularly old, of course – and try to get better results from that lineup. Hargreaves had started every game before he was waived and the two rookies, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean, hadn't yet played much.
It's impossible to know for sure if Hargreaves' departure had anything to do with it, but the Bucs did subsequently get much better results from their pass defense. By season's end, it looked like the secondary had found some good long-term pieces, particularly with the likes of Murphy-Bunting, Dean and Carlton Davis.