The return of Jason Taylor to the Dolphins back in May really got me thinking. Among my thoughts was Taylor's Hall of Fame credentials. Surely you can make a case that Jason is already a Hall of Famer. However, you can also make a case that Taylor is not a Hall of Famer.
What? I must be crazy, right?
Well I'm not - at least, not any more crazy than usual. So what I wanted to do today is look at both arguments and then let you all decide if Taylor should be elected into the Hall of Fame.
The case for Taylor
Jason enters the 2009 season ranked 14th all-time in sacks with 120.5 to his credit. He led the league with 18.5 back in 2002 - which also is the 12th highest single-season total in NFL history. Taylor is a 6 time Pro-Bowler and a 3 time first-team All-Pro. His eight career touchdowns are the most ever by a defensive lineman and his five career fumble recoveries returned for a touchdown are the most ever by any player. He also won the 2006 Defensive Player of the Year award and the 2007 Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
The easiest way, though, to judge if a player is a Hall of Famer or not is to compare his numbers with those who are already in the Hall. The first name that comes to mind is Andre Tippett, who spent his whole career with the Patriots. Tippett was inducted in 2008, some 15 years after retiring. So it took some time for him to get in. Even still, though, Andre is in there with fewer sacks (100), fewer interceptions (1 - Taylor has 7), fewer fumble recoveries (19 - Taylor has 26), fewer Pro Bowl appearances (5), and fewer first-team All-Pro honors (2).
Howie Long is also in the Hall of Fame despite having a career sack total of just 84. Long, though, does have two more Pro Bowl appearances than Taylor - but has been named a first-team All-Pro one fewer time. Taylor also has more interceptions and fumble recoveries than Long. Taylor also averages more sacks per year than Long (10.04 to 6.46) and more sacks per game than Long (0.651 to 0.469). Long, of course, does have that Super Bowl ring that has eluded Taylor throughout his career - though it certainly isn't Jason's fault.
The case against Taylor
I think you have to start out here by looking at Kevin Greene. Greene ranks third all-time on the career sacks list with 160. However, not only is Greene not a Hall of Famer - but he wasn't even a finalist this past year. That means he didn't even get 80% of the vote. In his 15 year career, Greene was a 5 time Pro-Bowler and 2 time first-team All-Pro. Yes - Taylor has Greene beat by one in each of those categories. But Greene led the NFL in sacks twice in his career and averaged more sacks per year than Taylor does (10.66 to 10.04) and more sacks per game than Taylor does (0.702 to 0.651). His five career interceptions and 26 career fumble recoveries are also very similar to Jason's numbers. If Greene can't seem to get into the Hall of Fame (for some reason that is beyond me, by the way), how can we expect Taylor to get voted in?
The same thing goes for long-time Vikings defensive end Chris Doleman. Doleman ranks 4th all-time in sacks with 150.5. However, he, too, is not a Hall of Famer. Doleman is an 8 time Pro-Bowler and 2 time first-team All-Pro. And his 1989 season that saw him tally 21 sacks is the third highest sack total in NFL history. Doleman has eight career interceptions (same as Taylor) and 24 career fumble recoveries (two less than Taylor). And he averages basically the same number of sacks per season as Taylor does (10.03) and barely fewer sacks per game (0.649). If Doleman can't get in, can you make a case that Jason Taylor should be in?
What can Taylor do
Jason Taylor will turn 35 years old on September 1. Some of the game's great sack artist all had some very good seasons at the age of 35 and beyond. Kevin Greene, for example, tallied 37.5 sacks in three seasons after turning 35. Chris Doleman picked up 46 sacks in four seasons after his 35th birthday.
Jason is coming off of a very tough season in Washington. But he's only one year removed from an 11 sack Pro Bowl season back in '07. How much does Jason have left in the tank? Will he be a rejuvenated JT now that he's back in Miami? These are the questions that we'll find out answers to in 2009. Does Jason need a post-35 career like Greene and Doleman? I really have no idea. After all, despite their efforts, neither player is in the Hall. Meanwhile, Tippett is in even though his career was over before ever playing a full season following his 35th birthday.
Clearly, these Hall of Fame voters are tough to understand. But being the homer that I am, another 10 sack season - moving Taylor into 10th place all-time - should be enough to get him in at some point. However, it's also fair to say that 30 sacks over the next three seasons still wouldn't be enough to get Taylor elected - at least until Kevin Greene and/or Chris Doleman get elected.
It'll be very interesting to see how this plays out as the years progress - that's for sure.