Appearing on WEEI’s The Greg Hill Show on Monday morning, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was asked his thoughts on the team’s representation in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The group recently grew by one, with the induction of Richard Seymour, but other cornerstones of the franchise’s early-era dynasty have still not received the recognition that they deserve.
“Hopefully more of those guys will get recognized,” Belichick said. “I’m sure they will, as time goes along. It sounds like there may be some momentum for Rodney. Certainly he would be near the top of my list of players that have had great careers and won championships here.
“Hopefully, we’ll see Robert [Kraft] and Rodney, and then eventually some of the players who are still playing or just recently finished playing — like Rob [Gronkowski] or Tom [Brady], guys like that — out there as well.”
Since Belichick mentioned him on Monday, now is a good time to remind everyone that Harrison is one of the biggest Hall of Fame snubs out there. Let’s take a look at some of the facts, and compare his career to other players from the same era who have already gotten the call.
Before I start comparing numbers, though, one extremely exclusive club that belongs to needs to be mentioned: the 30-30 club. It has only two members, Rodney Harrison and Ray Lewis.
That is the list of players who finished their careers with at least 30 sacks and 30 interceptions. No one else in the history of the NFL has done this, and that alone should be enough to make him a realistic candidate for the Hall of Fame. That is far from the end of our journey, however, so let’s take a look at some players who have been inducted and how they stack up in comparison to Harrison.
John Lynch: Lynch was a great safety for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (and later a short-time Patriot), and was selected to nine Pro Bowls in his career — seven more than Harrison. Then again, Harrison was a first team All-Pro twice, just as many times as Lynch was in his career, so maybe they weren’t as far off as that Pro Bowl number may make it seem.
Surely, however, the numbers for Lynch must be much better than Harrison’s then? Guess again. Harrison finished his career with eight more interceptions, 17.5 more sacks, and 147 more total tackles (193 more solo tackles) than Lynch. The only stat that favors Lynch is forced fumbles, and he finished his career with only one more than Harrison. Oh, and Harrison did this all while starting 32 less games than Lynch. That’s two full seasons less.
If you were looking at the stats blind, there isn’t a person alive that would take Lynch over Harrison. There simply should not be a world where John Lynch is a Hall of Famer and Rodney Harrison is not.
LeRoy Butler: Butler was a fantastic safety for the Green Bay Packers who was enshrined into the Hall of Fame this past year, which means he had to wait quite a while to get in as well. His stats aren’t really even that close to Harrison’s, though.
Butler did have four more career interceptions than Harrison and was a first-team All-Pro four times to Harrison’s two (who also made a second All-Pro squad), but that’s the only things he has going for him in this argument. Harrison had three more forced fumbles, 10 more sacks, and over 300 more total tackles (446 more solo tackles) than Butler. He did all this while actually starting six less games in his career. Maybe Butler making it is a good sign for Harrison, as Butler was only selected to four Pro Bowls in his career, and he did retire seven years before Harrison.
Maybe Harrison will get a bump now that he’s been retired long enough. Butler is another player whose résumé just doesn’t quite stack up to Harrison’s, but still got enshrined before him.
Brian Dawkins: Dawkins is considered one of the best safeties of his generation. He was a four-time first-team All-Pro, and was enshrined in 2018. What if I told you that Rodney Harrison finished with 100 more career tackles than Dawkins, while playing in almost 40 less games? And that, while Dawkins was definitely a ball hawk and finished with significantly more interceptions, that Harrison has him beat in sacks as well?
Dawkins has a better resume than the ex-Patriot. However, an argument can be made that it is not that much better that Dawkins’ who was enshrined in only his second year of eligibility. Harrison, meanwhile, has never been in serious consideration.
Ronnie Lott: Lott is the player who I compare Harrison to the most — not because of their stats, but because of the way they played the game. Lott was a more athletic player, and was fantastic in coverage, but it was their ability to play physical and put fear into their opponents that makes the parallel for me. Lott finished his career with close to double the interceptions that Harrison did, but the latter had almost four times as many sacks as Lott and finished his career with more tackles and forced fumbles.
Lott is one of the best safeties to ever play the game, and he is definitely above Harrison in the all-time ranking at the position. The numbers and their importance to multi-championship teams, however, aren’t as far off as some may want you to believe.
As you can see by looking at the stats, there are safeties who are fantastic at one specific part of defense. Ed Reed might be the best coverage safety of all time, but he finished his career with more than 25 less sacks, and six less tackles for loss than Harrison while playing almost the same amount of games.
The point is this: Harrison might be one of the most well-rounded safeties ever. He could pressure the quarterback, was a sure tackler, and had a nose for the football (whether punching it out, recovering it, or intercepting it).
You can make the argument that most of the players listed above were better than him, and I’d even agree with you on most of them (though definitely not John Lynch or LeRoy Butler). We’re talking about the best safeties of all time, though, and his numbers and accomplishments hold up. He wasn’t liked by other teams’ fans for media so they didn’t vote him into the Pro Bowl, but his play on the field shows that he deserved that recognition regardless of whether or not they were willing to give it to him.
However people felt about Harrison as a player is irrelevant, tough. His play demands he enters the Hall of Fame. When people travel to Canton to see the greatest players of all time, the busts of the greatest safeties to ever play the game cannot be complete until Rodney Harrison is among them.