Inside the room: How Hall-of-Fame voting went down

Inside the room: How Hall-of-Fame voting went down

After more than 20 years of covering the 49ers, I was one of four rookies in the room on Saturday morning inside Room 350 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston.

My first year as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 48-member Board of Selectors, it was my duty to open the discussion of Terrell Owens as one of the 15 modern-era finalists.

As luck had it, the wide receivers were randomly selected as the final position group to be talked about. And Owens’ presentation followed Isaac Bruce. My presentation was the final one of the day before the ballots were collected and tabulated by the accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche.

During the course of the meeting, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue did not receive the required 80-percent vote from the selectors as a contributor nominee. Contributor Jerry Jones and seniors nominee Kenny Easley were voted in.

After three rounds of voting, the modern-era Class of 2017 to emerge consisted of Morten Andersen, Terrell Davis, Jason Taylor, LaDainian Tomlinson and Kurt Warner.

Owens did not even make it into the top 10.

It might be a #FlawedProcess, as Owens suggested with his hashtags on Twitter after receiving the call of bad news on Saturday evening, but I do not question the motives of the men and women in that room who set out to “honor the heroes of the game.”

It is an incredibly thorough process that culminates with a discussion that lasted more than eight hours on Saturday.

Each of the selectors with whom I’ve held conversations and who spoke on Saturday take this duty very seriously. And the detailed approaches were evident in the presentations and additional comments in the discussions of the 15 modern-era finalists and the nominees in the contributors and seniors categories.

The media members have tremendous resources available for them to form their opinions. And many of the selectors expressed -- not their personal opinions so much – but the observations, experiences and thoughts of many coaches, executives and players, including Hall of Famers, about the candidates.

Many times those outside-the-room resources were named – with the approval of those respected NFL men. Other times, their identities were withheld at the request of those individuals.

This year is the first time the Hall of Famers had a voice in the room. In fact, they had two voices. Dan Fouts and James Lofton made their debuts on the selection committee after sitting in on the process a year ago as observers. Fouts (CBS) and Lofton (Westwood One) are eligible to vote because of their status as working media.

The Owens Debate
The bylaws for the Selection Committee states:

“The only criteria for election into the Hall of Fame are a nominee’s achievements and contributions as a player, a coach or a contributor in professional football.”

While off-the-field issues are not to be weighed, it is up to each member to determine how literally to consider that guideline. Some consider the sideline and locker room to be an extension of the field.

Peter King of the MMQB explained in his column Monday: “If something factors into how or whether a player plays, and if something factors into a tangible effect on the team’s performance (such as leadership), we can consider it. In other words, we can extend the on-field factors to the locker room and practice field if we think that had a bearing on his team and his own play.”

(The voting takes place via secret ballot, but King disclosed he voted for Owens, as did I.)

My presentation of Terrell Owens included an acknowledgement he had uneasy relationships with his quarterbacks but those same quarterbacks – Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb and Tony Romo – also thrived with Owens as their top pass-catcher.

Garcia, McNabb and Romo each posted his best win-loss record in single seasons in which Owens averaged more than 1,300 yards receiving and 15 touchdowns.

The discussion lasted 32 minutes. Some in the room supported Owens’ induction as one of the top receivers in NFL history. But others raised concerns about his role in locker-room dramas that led to the 49ers, Eagles and Cowboys parting ways with him while he was in the prime of his career.

As a result, Owens did not make the cut from 15 to 10 for the second time in his two years of eligibility into the Hall of Fame.

The Final Five
There is a good chance the three remaining defensive backs – John Lynch, Brian Dawkins and Ty Law – and offensive linemen Tony Boselli and Kevin Mawae split the vote and, in essence, canceled each other out.

That left the modern-era top-five vote-getters as Tomlinson, Davis, Andersen, Warner and Taylor.

Tomlinson was such a lock for the Hall of Fame, that he was probably considered in a completely separate class. Therefore, it would seem, he did not have any kind of canceling-out impact on Davis.

Davis’ career consisted of three remarkable years in a row, including a 2,000-yard, 21-touchdown performance in 1998. He was the driving force that led the way to John Elway’s back-to-back Super Bowls before he retired.

What pushed Davis over the top were his performances in the playoffs. In those eight games – half an NFL regular season – Davis rushed for 1,140 yards and 12 touchdowns.

With Davis now out of the way, that could open the door for other running backs to get into the conversation, such as Roger Craig, in future years.

Next year, will be a big year for the safeties. Lynch and Dawkins should be expected to advance far in the process once again. But after next year, things could get difficult for the safety position with likely first-ballot Hall of Famers Ed Reed and Troy Palomalu becoming eligible for induction in 2019 and ’20, respectively.

Class of 2018?
The first five out from this year were those who advanced to the top 10 but were not inducted. That list is comprised of Lynch, Dawkins, Law, Boselli and Mawae.

The next five were Owens, Isaac Bruce, Joe Jacoby, Alan Faneca and Don Coryell.

Linebacker Ray Lewis and wide receiver Randy Moss are eligible for the first time. They are certain to be in the top 15. Linebacker Brian Urlacher is a strong candidate to advance as a finalist, too.

There are a lot of Hall-of-Fame worthy candidates who were left out this year, no doubt. And that’s not going to change any time soon. Next year will be the same. It’s unavoidable.

And that’s what makes the entire process is so agonizing for some and so rewarding for others.

Notable First-Time Eligibles
Class of 2018
Ronde Barber
Ray Lewis
Jeff Saturday
Donald Driver
Matt Birk
Steve Hutchinson
Brian Urlacher
Randy Moss

Class of 2019
Dallas Clark
Tony Gonzalez
Ed Reed
Champ Bailey

Class of 2020
Troy Polamalu
Reggie Wayne
Patrick Willis

Class of 2021
Peyton Manning
Charles Woodson
Calvin Johnson
Jerod Mayo
Justin Tuck
Jared Allen
Heath Miller
Marshawn Lynch
Logan Mankins
Source: The Pro Football Hall of Fame

49ers linebacker Foster named to NFL All-Rookie team


49ers linebacker Foster named to NFL All-Rookie team

Linebacker Reuben Foster was named to the NFL All-Rookie Team in voting conducted by the Professional Football Writers of America.

Foster started all 10 games in which he appeared for the 49ers after being selected with the No. 31 overall pick out of Alabama. Foster finished second on the 49ers with 72 tackles. He had seven tackles for loss, ranking No. 2 on the team behind rookie defensive lineman Solomon Thomas.

Foster was one of three linebackers selected as an all-rookie performer. Thomas, the No. 3 overall draft pick, was not among the four defensive linemen honored.

[MAIOCCO: Ex-agent says Reuben Foster's arrest could void salary guarantees]

Foster was selected as the winner of the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for November. He missed five games early in the season with a high ankle sprain and another game with a ribs injury.

The NFL’s top defensive rookie was New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who recorded five interceptions and scored a touchdown while making 13 starts.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: RB Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs
CO-OFFENSIVE ROOKIES OF THE YEAR: RB Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs and RB Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: CB Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints

QB – Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
RB – Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs; Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
WR – Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams; Juju Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers
TE – Evan Engram, New York Giants
C – Pat Elflein, Minnesota Vikings
G – Dan Feeney, Los Angeles Chargers; Jermaine Eluemunor, Baltimore Ravens, and Ethan Pocic, Seattle Seahawks (tie)
T – Garett Bolles, Denver Broncos; Ryan Ramczyk, New Orleans Saints

DL – Derek Barnett, Philadelphia Eagles; Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns; Carl Lawson, Cincinnati Bengals; Dalvin Tomlinson, New York Giants
LB – Jarrad Davis, Detroit Lions; Reuben Foster, San Francisco 49ers; T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers
CB – Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints; Tre'Davious White, Buffalo Bills
S – Jamal Adams, New York Jets; Marcus Williams, New Orleans Saints

Special Teams
PK – Harrison Butker, Kansas City Chiefs
P – Rigoberto Sanchez, Indianapolis Colts
KR – Ryan Switzer, Dallas Cowboys
PR – Jamal Agnew, Detroit Lions
ST – Budda Baker, Arizona Cardinals

Ex-agent says Reuben Foster's arrest could void salary guarantees


Ex-agent says Reuben Foster's arrest could void salary guarantees

Reuben Foster’s arrest Friday night on marijuana charges in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is likely to void $2.5 million in salary guarantees, according to a former NFL agent.

Joel Corry, appearing on the 49ers Insider Podcast, said there is language in Foster’s contract that voids the salary guarantees if he is fined under the NFL’s Policy on Substances of Abuse.

“Typically with veteran contracts, you must be suspended . . . in order to have contract guarantees void,” said Corry, whose work appears on CBS Sports. “What we’ve seen in rookie deals is they’ve extended that to getting fined, as well.”

According to a league source familiar with the 49ers’ structure on rookie contracts, the team’s standard practice is to void guarantees with fines. The 49ers were not harder on Foster because of a failed drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine due to a diluted sample.

Foster was released on $2,500 bond on Friday evening after being booked on second-degree marijuana possession, according to the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Office.

Under the NFL’s Policy on Substances of Abuse, the first offense for a violation of Stage Two, if marijuana, includes a fine equivalent to the pay of two game checks.

In Foster’s original contract, his entire scheduled salaries of $875,708 in 2018 and $1.286 million in 2019 were fully guaranteed. In addition, $339,000 of his scheduled $1.697 salary in 2020 was guaranteed.

“What that means is,” Corry said, “he doesn’t get the money, no matter what, any more. But he can still make the same money that’s in the contract on a non-guaranteed basis, but you don’t have the same security as you did before.

“So if his rookie year turns out to be an anomaly or off-the-field issues end up being problematic, it gives the 49ers more latitude to either ask him a pay cut or to release him.”

Foster started all 10 games in which he appeared for the 49ers as a rookie. The first-round draft pick from Alabama recorded 72 tackles.