HOUSTON — What a week this could be for John Lynch. On Sunday, he was named the 49ers' surprise pick for general manager. In a league that has more leaks than a screen ceiling, nobody saw that coming.
Today, Lynch could (should) be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's a finalist for the class of 2017, and voters will meet at Super Bowl LI with an announcement to be made during the NFL Honors show.
Lynch played safety, better than almost anyone during his era. He went to nine Pro Bowls. The only player at that position who went to more was Ken Houston, who was named to 12 before he retired in 1980.
In fact, Houston is the last pure safety to be elected to the Hall, which is the crux of Lynch's problem.
Safety is a tough position to quantify, simply because there are all different kinds. Lynch was known for his hard hitting and he frequently played close to the line of scrimmage. It's hard to imagine many safeties who played the run better than Lynch. Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders has said Lynch is one of the few players who ever got a good lick on him.
As a starter in eight of his 11 Bucs seasons, Tampa Bay finished in the top 10 in run defense five times and pass defense seven times. In all, Lynch played 15 seasons and recorded 1,277 tackles. Three times he had at least 100 tackles during the season.
What the voters always stumble on is that Lynch had only 26 career interceptions. By comparison, the seven true safeties in the Hall averaged 58 career picks. Let's look at a couple of things about this number, which might explain why Lynch has yet to be elected despite being a finalist three other times.
One, Lynch was a third-round pick out of Stanford in 1993 by Sam Wyche. The Bucs' defensive coordinators at the time, Floyd Peters and Rusty Tillman, didn't have a clue how to use Lynch. They tried to make a hybrid linebacker out of him, and he played mostly special teams.
Secondly, Tony Dungy installed the Tampa 2 scheme when he took over as Bucs coach in 1996 and Lynch was often the eighth man in the box against the run, joining four down linemen and three linebackers.
Even though the scheme allows defenders to keep their eyes on the quarterback, Lynch wasn't only playing the pass first. He also intimidated pass catchers over the middle and you wonder how many times he was responsible for dropped balls.
Former Vikings safety Paul Krause was a ball hawk with 81 interceptions. But it took him 14 years to get into the Hall because he rarely tackled ballcarriers.
Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks already are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Bucs had a dominant defense for about a decade, from 1997-2007. While Lynch was playing for Tampa Bay, the Bucs went to the NFC Championship Game in 1999 and won Super Bowl XXXVII in the 2002 season. He was released after 2003 and made four more Pro Bowls in as many seasons with the Broncos. He's in the ring of honor for both teams.
You could count on Lynch like a rooster's crow.
He was the third pillar in the Bucs defense: Sapp, Brooks and Lynch. One for every level.
What might help Lynch is that Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson is the only certain first-ballot finalist this year. There's a good chance Broncos running back Terrell Davis gets in, too. Quarterback Kurt Warner is gaining a lot of momentum. Also in the class with Lynch is Eagles safety Brian Dawkins, who has 37 career interceptions. But he never won a Super Bowl and shouldn't be a first-ballot choice.
Lynch needs to be elected this year. Pretty soon, safeties such as Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu will be eligible, making the case for Lynch tougher.