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Adrian Wilson has Hall of Fame credentials but Canton is a long shot

TEMPE, Ariz. -- If getting a bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame was just about numbers, Adrian Wilson would be next in a long line of safeties getting fitted for a yellow jacket.

But, as so many at his position have learned the hard way over the years, enshrinement is about more than a stat line.

Wilson's NFL resume will say he played 14 seasons, but in reality he actually played 12 -- all with the Arizona Cardinals. And during those dozen years, he put up numbers that put him on par with some of the league's best safeties. Ever. He announced his retirement Monday with 886 tackles, 27 interceptions, 25.5 sacks, 14 forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries and four defensive touchdowns.

His career, however, can be looked at through two different prisms.

If his stats are considered against other strong safeties from 2001 through 2014, then Wilson retired second in tackles (by just four), third in interceptions, first in sacks, tied for fifth in forced fumbles, tied for fifth in recovered fumbles and tied for third in defensive touchdowns.

However, if Wilson's numbers are compared during the seasons he actually played -- 2001-12 -- then Wilson was the best safety in football. He was cut by Arizona in March 2013, signed with the New England Patriots and then missed the whole season with a torn Achilles before his release. The Chicago Bears signed Wilson in June 2014, released him during cuts and he sat out last season. During his actual 12-year career, Wilson led all strong safeties in tackles and sacks, was second in interceptions, fourth in forced fumbles and still fifth in recovered fumbles, while he tied for second in defensive touchdowns.

Wilson played in five Pro Bowls, was a three-time All-Pro, played in a Super Bowl and is one of six players in NFL history to have at least 25 interceptions and 25 sacks.

But this is how hard it is to make the Hall of Fame as a safety: The last true safety to be inducted into the Hall of Fame was Ken Houston -- and he last played in 1980.

Wilson will just have to take a number and wait -- likely forever.

Former free safeties lsuch as Steve Atwater and Kenny Easley have never been finalists. There's a long line ahead of Wilson, despite his Hall-worthy credentials. Among those ahead of him include LeRoy Butler, Darren Woodson, John Lynch, Brian Dawkins, as well as Wilson's contemporaries such as Ed Reed, Charles Woodson and Ronde Barber.

A list like that, however, won't keep Wilson from thinking about the Hall -- and how to make it better.

"You think about it because you want to look at numbers, you want to look at so many factors that go into it," Wilson said. "But, I think the main thing they need to do is change the way safeties are voted on. I just feel like, over the past 10 to 15 years, to say the position has been probably the No. 1 or No.2 position besides quarterback that has evolved the game.

"You have to kinda go back and redo how you look at safeties going into the Hall of Fame. There's a backlog of guys that should be in already."

One of Wilson's peers the past 12 years has been receiving early Hall of Fame buzz after recently retiring. Even though former Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu has five years until he can be inducted, there's a growing swell of support for his enshrinement.

Of all the safeties of Wilson's era, Polamalu may be the best case study for a comparison to Wilson, particularly because both played 12 years.

Their numbers are fairly comparable, even down to their total disrupted dropbacks, a stat developed by ESPN Stats & Information to measure a defensive player's impact by combining their sacks, passes defended, interceptions and batted balls. Wilson's was 68.5. Polamalu's was 72.

But what does Polamalu have that Wilson doesn't? Two things. Rings. And he played for the Steelers.

Wilson came close to a title in Super Bowl XLIII. He went to the playoffs twice in 12 years and left the Cardinals with a career record of 77-115. But Arizona was televised in just 14 prime-time games in Wilson's 12 seasons.

By comparison, the Steelers played in prime time 53 times since 2003.

A lack of exposure added to the stress of changing the culture around the Cardinals, Wilson said.

"It's hard when you're dealing with a tough East Coast market because everything is driven through the East Coast, and people don't tend to look out West," he said. "Even today, they still don't look out West for players and guys who have been productive over the years.

"I'll probably be in that argument to this day that I don't deserve certain things. Certain guys on the East Coast that played their whole careers for a franchise, when it's all said and done, we have the same numbers. Only thing we don't have are Super Bowl rings. But, the East Coast is what draws football. I think once you look out West and you see all the good players out West, that's just the way the NFL is. You deal with that by being productive on the field every year and being consistent every year. That's how you deal with it."

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who played with Wilson from 2004-12 and will likely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, believes his former teammate is worthy of being enshrined, but he also thinks a lack of exposure could play a role in Wilson being left out.

"I think he made a pretty valid point that playing in Arizona could possibly have a negative impact," Fitzgerald said. "We didn't have a lot of televised games. We weren't on Monday night and Sunday night football like those guys were every single week so from a national perspective, it might be viewed differently but watching him every single day, watching him every single game he played in since 2004, I believe he deserves to be there."