Steve Atwater: Why all safeties indebted to Hall's Easley
Until Kenny Easley was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2017, there hadn't been a pure safety inducted since 1998 (Paul Krause) nor a Hall-of-Fame safety to play since 1980 (Ken Houston).
But all that changed with Easley's admission, and it may have changed the conversation about the safety position for good with Hall-of-Fame voters. At least that's the opinion of former Denver star Steve Atwater, one of four safeties in the Hall of Fame's Class of 2018 semifinalists.
"I think that helps all the safeties, me included," Atwater said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. "It helps our chances. Now, that doesn't mean it necessarily mean it's going to happen. We have to wait and see."
He's right about that. First of all, there's another cut -- with the 27 semifinalists pared to 15, and that happens with an announcement Tuesday evening. Then there's the cut from 15 to five, and that happens Feb. 3, or the day prior to Super Bowl LII.
Nevertheless, with four safeties already in the queue, including two Top-10 choices from 2017 (Brian Dawkins and John Lynch), there's a chance -- and a pretty good one -- that one will be elected to the Class of 2018. And, should that happen, Atwater believes the inductee -- as well as all future safety candidates -- owes a debt of gratitude to Easley.
"I certainly think (so) because he was finally recognized," said Atwater, a Hall-of-Fame finalist in 2016. "I was there when he got inducted back in August for the speech, and he mentioned all the safeties who he feels have been waiting a long time. I think thought that caught a lot of people's attention, and (they) may have been a bit surprised that he was that well connected in terms of feeling the plight for all the safeties.
"He's been waiting a long time, and he's certainly deserving. I know his career was cut short because of issues ... and he had some issues with the team, too, because of that. Fortunately, they're back in a good place right now.
"But, yeah, him being inducted just made that light shine a little bit brighter and made people dig under the hood a little bit and say, 'Hey, what's going on with the safety position? Why are they underrepresented? Why hasn't a safety been picked in this long a period of time?' So, hopefully, a few more guys will get in there and even up the numbers a little bit."
He won't have long to find out.