State Your Case: What happens to John Abraham when he's Hall eligible in 2020?

photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Clark Judge

Of the players who become eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020, one name earns all the attention: Troy Polamalu.

And I get it. Two-time Super Bowl champion. Six-time All-Pro. All-decade. NFL Defensive Player of the Year. High-profile name on a high-profile team.

But what about another player who’s eligible in 2020? What about John Abraham?

No, he didn’t win a Super Bowl, wasn’t all-decade, wasn’t the league’s Defensive Player of the Year and wasn’t a high-profile name on a high-profile team.

But so what? He was an edge rusher, and Hall-of-Fame voters are partial to the position – inducting nine in one ten-year period (2008-17). Plus, he had one of the most important qualities voters look for in Hall-of-Fame candidates: Numbers.

Look at his sacks. He had 133-1/2 in his 15-year career … or one more than Lawrence Taylor … and ranks 12th all-time. Of the 11 individuals ahead of him who are Hall-of-Fame eligible … and there are eight … all are in Canton.

Moreover, Abraham was consistent, with eight double-digit seasons (including three of his last four) and two more with 9-1/2 each.

Now look at his forced fumbles. According to Pro Football Reference, he had 47, which ranks third in NFL history. Only Robert Mathis (54) and Julius Peppers (52) had more.

Then there's this: Abraham’s total is one more than Jason Taylor. I mention that because Taylor not only is in the Hall; he was a first-ballot choice in 2017.

OK, on to tackles for losses. Abraham had 148, or three fewer than Taylor and 20 more than Dwight Freeney.

I think you get the idea. There wasn’t much John Abraham didn’t do except win a Super Bowl. He’s the first elite edge rusher to become Hall eligible since … well, since Jason Taylor in 2017 … and you saw what happened there. Even Taylor was surprised when voters made him a first-ballot choice.

But Taylor, you say, was a three-time first-team All-Pro and second-teamer a fourth year. True. But so was Abraham.

So what happens when he becomes eligible for the Class of 2020?

Like Jason Taylor, John Abraham wasn’t a Super Bowl champion. In fact, like Taylor, he didn’t appear in a Super Bowl. But unlike Taylor, he wasn’t an all-decade selection. Granted, Taylor wasn’t a starter. He was a second-team choice. But voters didn’t care.

So, will they care that Abraham didn’t make the all-decade cut? I mean, John Lynch didn’t make it, either, despite being a nine-time Pro Bowl choice, four-time All-Pro and Super Bowl champion. Nevertheless, the past six years he’s been a Hall-of-Fame finalist who can’t cross the finish line … and who seems to have lost momentum.

OK, Lynch was a safety. Let’s look at pass rushers. Leslie O’Neal had as many sacks as Lawrence Taylor but wasn’t all-decade … and he’s been nothing more than a semifinalist. Once. The same goes for Simeon Rice, who had 122 career sacks, ranks 20th all-time but wasn’t all-decade.

Unlike O’Neal, however, he was part of a Super Bowl champion. In fact, he was a star of Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl XXXVII beatdown of the Raiders. But it hasn’t helped his Hall-of-Fame candidacy. He’s been nothing more than a semifinalist once, too.

Worse, neither he nor O’Neal were part of the Hall’s 2014 preliminary list of 126 candidates, appearing on the ballot afterward only after several voters appealed to the Hall.

Beginning with Abraham, there’s a group of star edge rushers who become Hall-of-Fame eligible. Jared Allen and DeMarcus Ware are in the Class of 2021; Mathis in 2022; Freeney in 2023 and Peppers in 2024. A sixth, Terrell Suggs, is still playing and might be entering his last season of play. If so, that would make him Hall-of-Fame eligible in 2025.

So where do you put Abraham? For an answer, I consulted NFL historian John Turney of Pro Football Journal, and he was direct with his response: He had Peppers first and Ware next, followed by, in order, Allen, Abraham and Freeney. The conclusion there is that if you like Freeney – and a lot of people do – then you should like Abraham, too.

But there’s also a danger there, and it’s that -- just like a Leslie O’Neal or Simeon Rice -- John Abraham gets lost in the shuffle of edge rushers. And that would be a shame. Because, if nothing else, I want to hear his case discussed … and I want to hear it for the simplest of reasons.

I know why John Abraham could be a Hall of Famer. I just want to hear why he can’t.

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