This has been a strange season for Bears linebacker Lance Briggs.
It started with controversy when he was excused from a Monday practice to open up a barbecue restaurant. On the field he has been largely underwhelming, and he’s made comments along the way that have drawn criticism. His season ended prematurely when the Bears placed him on injured reserve Friday.
Briggs has admitted before that 2014 is probably his last with the Bears, and after a season-ending injury, his 12th season could very well be his last in the league.
Assuming this is Briggs’ last season, he will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in five years. Is he a worthy candidate?
There are a number of articles on this subject already out there that are worth reading and incorporating into the discussion.
Perhaps the best of them is this 2012 story from SB Nation.
The author, Lester A. Wiltfong Jr., brings up the three main arguments Briggs’ detractors will point out: 1. Briggs is a system player; 2. Briggs played most of his career next to Brian Urlacher; 3. Briggs isn’t racking up sacks.
Here’s a key takeaway:
There’s another player that played the exact same position as Briggs, and he becomes Hall eligible next year. WCG member JP Hochbaum brought up former 11 time Pro Bowl Buccaneer Derrick Brooks in our Facebook chat, and both Brooks and Briggs played the weakside OLB in the Tampa 2 system. If Brooks picks up solid support in his quest for the Hall, then Briggs will no doubt have his supporters when he’s eligible. If neither garners enough votes, then the Hall voters are simply over thinking the process.
Brooks, of course, was elected and enshrined to the Hall of Fame earlier this year.
Let’s see how Briggs’ career compares to Brooks in this nifty chart, compiled from stats using pro-football-reference.com. I’ve thrown in Brian Urlacher’s numbers for the sake of comparison as well, because he’s a surefire Hall of Famer.
The raw numbers favor Brooks in a big way, but on a per-game basis, Brooks isn’t appreciably better. There’s certainly something to be said, though, for a guy whose career included 51 more games.
Wiltfong concluded his post two years ago by saying: “If Lance Briggs can add another couple Pro Bowls to his resume, he belongs with the greats in Canton.”
Andrew Pappas, writing for RantSports, came to a similar conclusion before this season: “While I think he should already have a ticket to Canton, Briggs probably needs a few more healthy, productive seasons to become a no doubt Hall of Famer.”
Briggs hasn’t been able to do that. He’s played 17 total games the last two years, and the quality of his play at ages 33 and 34 has declined.
So, no, Briggs isn’t a lock for the Hall. I’d argue, though, as both of the aforementioned authors did, that Briggs deserves a spot in Canton.
If the voters tab Briggs, it won’t be because of his numbers, good as they are. It will be because he was one of the best outside linebackers of his era and one of the best in Bears history — a fact that should mean something, considering the excellence that has taken the field at the position for the franchise. He went to seven straight Pro Bowls from 2005-11, and only four Bears players have started more than Briggs’ 170 games: Walter Payton, Olin Kreutz, Urlacher and Mike Singletary.
That’s some elite company. It’s worth also noting the players that pro-football-reference.com lists as being the most similar. Among them: Chris Doleman, Bobby Bell, Derrick Thomas, Rickey Jackson, Harry Carson and Ted Hendricks — all of whom are Hall of Famers.
Here are some more of Briggs’ achievements: He led the team in tackles five times: 2004, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012. He finished second four times: 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2010. According to STATS, Briggs led the NFL in stuffs — a tackle of a rusher for negative yards — over the past 11 seasons with 81. His five interception returns for touchdowns are tied with Jack Pardee for third most in NFL history among linebackers, trailing only the previously mentioned Hall of Famers Derrick Brooks and Bobby Bell.
If you judge Briggs on the era he played, which I would argue is the only fair way to judge a player, he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He was absolutely one of the best linebackers of his time.