A weeklong look at current or former players or coaches with Hall of Fame potential in the division.
Broncos: Champ Bailey, cornerback
Claim to fame: Bailey has been known as one of the premier shutdown cornerbacks in the NFL since coming into the league with Washington in 1999. He’s been named to nine Pro Bowls.
Case for enshrinement: Bailey continues to be a shutdown cornerback. His signature play is an interception in the end zone that he brought back all the way to the goal line in the 2005 playoffs against New England. It was the key play in Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s first postseason loss as New England Patriots.
Bailey is a tremendous run-stuffer. Unlike many cornerbacks, Bailey loves to get dirty and he often snuffs out sweep plays. He has said he worked hard to become a good tackler because he rarely gets tested in the air. Bailey is a bright, articulate player who takes his game very seriously. He’s simply an all-timer.
Case against enshrinement: Bailey has said it himself: He needs to get a Super Bowl ring before he seriously can be considered for enshrinement in Canton.
He should be in the clear, but the fact that Bailey hasn’t won a Super Bowl could play against him. The furthest he got was the AFC title game in the 2005 season.
Last run in Denver? Bailey, 32, said he plans to play at least five more years. However, the 2010 season could be his final year in Denver. His seven-year, $63 million contract expires after this season. There haven’t been any serious extension talks. Bailey said he is willing to wait to talk about a new deal and he wants to stay in Denver. However, Bailey will be expensive. If Denver doesn’t re-sign him, expect a contending team to open up the checkbook for this special player.
Will he make it? I think, if he wins a ring or not, Bailey will be enshrined in Canton.
Chiefs: Mike Vrabel, linebacker
Claim to fame: A main cog of the New England Patriots’ defenses during their dynasty years of the past decade.
Case for enshrinement: Dynasty teams usually send many players to Canton. Vrabel will get a long look. He is a natural leader, which is one of the reasons former New England executive Scott Pioli traded for him the first day he could when he took over in Kansas City last year. Vrabel is essentially a coach on the field.
Vrabel, who turns 35 next month, was a member of Sports Illustrated’s all-decade team for the 2000s. He was part of New England’s 50th anniversary team. Many people in Kansas City think if the Chiefs’ defense turns around this year, it will be because of Vrabel's leadership.
Case against enshrinement: Vrabel may be considered just a complementary player instead of a dominant game-changer. He has made only one Pro Bowl and one All-Pro team. He has one season in his 13-season career with more than 100 tackles. He has only 11 career interceptions.
Don’t forget the offense: In both New England and in Kansas City, Vrabel has been used as a secret weapon. As a tight end in the red zone, Vrabel has nine receiving touchdowns in the regular season. He has two offensive touchdowns in the postseason. He is, by far, the NFL’s defensive leader for offensive scores. That will count for something.
Will he make it? I think Vrabel will have to wait a long time. His lack of dominant numbers will hurt him.
Raiders: Nnamdi Asomugha, cornerback
Claim to fame: Asomugha is arguably the best cornerback in the NFL. He is a true shutdown cornerback.
Case for enshrinement: He shuts down the entire left side of the field. A first-round draft pick from Cal in 2003, Asomugha had a breakout season in 2006 with eight interceptions.
Since then, teams just don’t challenge Asomugha. He has had one interception in each of the past three seasons. Asomugha has made himself a great run-stuffer because he doesn’t get much work in the passing game. He is a bright light for the league as he is involved in many charities.
Case against enshrinement: He might not have a large body of work. Asomugha, 29, had a slow start to his career, so his final numbers might not be great. Asomugha has played in Oakland for seven years. The Raiders have lost at least 11 games in each of those seasons, which is an NFL record. Of course, the tailspin is not Asomugha’s fault. Still, in a league where rings are cherished, he could be dinged for it.
Hall of Fame tutelage: Asomugha has benefited from the coaching of Pro Football Hall of Famer Willie Brown, who is known as one of the greatest cornerbacks to play the game. Brown has helped Asomugha throughout his career. The two are very close and often talk strategy.
Will he make it? I think Asomugha may run out of time. His late start and Oakland's losing ways have put him behind the eight ball, but he's special enough to make up for the lost time.
Chargers: Philip Rivers, quarterback
Claim to fame: He is an elite quarterback. Rivers is in his prime and has gotten better in each of the four seasons he has started.
Case for enshrinement: This is a long-term project. Rivers is 28 and he should have another eight to 10 quality years remaining in his career. But he is on the right track.
Rivers is one of the game’s best players. He has put up huge numbers. He has thrown for 8,263 yards and 62 touchdowns in the past two seasons. He threw only 20 interceptions in that time. If Rivers, who has a high-powered offense to work with, continues to produce at this rate, he will be considered for enshrinement down the road.
He is a proven winner. San Diego is 46-18 in the regular season since Rivers became the starter. He is a natural leader.
Case against enshrinement: If Rivers gets hurt and his career ends prematurely, his Canton push will fall short. He needs to have a long career. He also needs to show he can deliver in the postseason, when it counts most. In 2006 and 2009, the Chargers were upset at home in their first playoff game in seasons in which the Super Bowl was an attainable goal. Rivers needs some signature playoff wins.
2004 draft class: Rivers will always be compared to Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. Manning was the No. 1 pick, Rivers was the No. 4 pick and Roethlisberger was the No. 11 pick in the 2004 draft. Of course, Manning and Rivers were the key figures in a draft-day trade between the Giants and the Chargers.
Both Manning and Roethlisberger have something Rivers doesn’t: a Super Bowl ring. Roethlisberger has two rings. If Rivers never gets a Super Bowl ring, this comparison could work against him. Still, Rivers appears to be the safest bet of the three as they all move forward. Rivers is playing great and he is a solid citizen. Manning is inconsistent on the field and Roethlisberger will start the 2010 season suspended because of off-field issues. In the end, Rivers probably will be remembered as the best of the three, but a ring will help.
Will he make it? If Rivers stays healthy, I think he will be a Hall of Famer. He'll retire with huge numbers.