It’s 2016 and we’re more than halfway through the decade, so what better time to start predicting the members of the NFL’s All-Decade Team. Premature? Not really. Several members of previous teams played less than half of that decade and yet still earned all-decade honors, including Dick Butkus in the 1970s (who only played through 1973); Jack Lambert in the 1980s (who only played through 1984); Ronnie Lott in the 1990s (who retired in 1994), and Terrell Davis and Tony Boselli (who both entered the league in 1995, but were comets).
Heck, Cardinals safety Larry Wilson only played through 1972 and he made the All-Decade team for the 1970s. So yeah, there’s a chance you could see Brian Urlacher (who retired in 2012 and was so underrated during his career) on the list below – like the same chance the Bears will someday erect a statue of Jay Cutler outside Soldier Field.
The NFL Hall of Fame selection committee always votes to select the All-Decade teams and typically names two players per position – so two quarterbacks, four wide receivers, six linebackers, etc. But in the event of ties – like in the 1970s, when Terry Bradshaw and Ken Stabler both finished behind Roger Staubach with the second-most votes – the teams can sometimes be larger.
For instance, everyone knows Tom Brady is going to be the first-team quarterback for the 2010-2019 decade. But who is going to be second? Will it be a three-way tie between Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Russell Wilson? Because, yeah, you have to look into the crystal ball a bit and try to predict whose resume will look the best by decade’s end.
Will Odell Beckham Jr. make the team? How about Troy Polamalu (who won NFL Defensive Player of the Year in the decade’s first year but only played through 2014)? Don’t skip ahead – there’s a quiz at the end and I will know if you did!
Calvin Johnson, Lions
Antonio Brown, Steelers
Julio Jones, Falcons
Odell Beckham Jr., Giants
Megatron is a no-brainer. He was a Pro Bowler from 2010-2015, was All-Pro three times, and set a single-season NFL record for receiving yards. Like Barry Sanders, Johnson was run toward an early retirement by the only NFC team that has never appeared in a Super Bowl. A.J. Green deserved better than to be fighting Brown, Jones, and Beckham for the remaining three spots. Then again, he deserved better than to spend his career playing for the Bungles.
Note: Larry Fitzgerald might seem like a notable omission, but he had his best years last decade. He didn’t make the All-Decade team for the 2000s either, losing out to Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt, Randy Moss, and Terrell Owens. I mean, choosing between those contenders isn’t exactly like picking between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
Greg Olsen, Bears/Panthers; Jimmy Graham, Saints/Seahawks
How many tight ends will ever be on the cover of Madden? That’s how much of an impact Rob Gronkowski has made — cutting up defenses as a mutant at the tight end position and cutting across the pop culture landscape as a hard-partying, fun-loving doofus who seldom wears shirts. He’s been a bit brittle in his career, only starting 16 games once. But when he’s on the field, no other tight end can approach his productivity or resume: four Pro Bowls, three All-Pro nods, and a Super Bowl title in 2014. If he didn’t play another game this decade – and as a non-Patriots fan, I’d be fine with that – he’d still be a unanimous selection for All-Decade.
Greg Olsen – a guy whose career started out with great expectations as a first-round pick – never met the expectations of such a high draft pick in Chicago. But he came to Carolina, was paired with Cam Newton at quarterback, and in the last two seasons he’s reached the Pro Bowl by exceeding 1,000 yards receiving. This year, he had 610 yards receiving through the first six games, a lone bright spot on a team that reached the Super Bowl last year and is now such a dumpster fire that they might be vying for the No. 1 pick.
Jimmy Graham was sniffing some of Gronk’s rarefied dance floor sweat back in 2013, when Graham was All-Pro with 1,215 yards receiving and a league-leading 16 touchdown receptions. But since being traded to Seattle before the 2015 season, Graham has been either injured or MIA.
Still, I polled my people (me, myself, and I) and we all agreed that Gronk is a unanimous first-team selection, while Graham and Olsen are tied for second team.
Snubbed: Travis Kelce, Gary Barnidge, Jordan Cameron, Julius Thomas and Tyler Eifert
Joe Thomas, Browns
Jason Peters, Eagles
Joe Staley, 49ers
Tyron Smith, Cowboys
One of my all-time favorite NFL draft stories was how Joe Thomas decided to forego all the pomp and circumstance of attending the human auction in person in New York City – where he was assured to be a top pick out of Wisconsin – to spend the day fishing with his dad. Thomas was drafted third overall in 2007 behind JaMarcus Russell and Calvin Johnson. I hope when Thomas is inevitably inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame that he becomes the first inductee to forego his day of enshrinement to go fishing.
Jason Peters has been named to every Pro Bowl in each of his last eight seasons. (He missed 2012 to injury). Admittedly, a Pro Bowl nod is a pretty poor barometer of how good a player is relative to their contemporaries, what with injury replacements, the need to forego the game to play in the Super Bowl or the pragmatic decision to not become the first player to have their career end in a pointless postseason exhibition game. I mean, Andy Dalton has been to two Pro Bowls, and he’s probably ranked 15-20th on anyone’s list of franchise quarterbacks.
The All-Decade team should not simply be a list of the guys who made the most Pro Bowls at their positions. I imagine the selection committee locked away in a bunker, subsisting on Scotch, Cubans and winking masseuses, arguing about the merits of perennial Pro Bowlers like Joe Staley, Trent Williams, Ryan Clady and Duane Brown.
That’s exactly how my three-headed committee discussed these players before deciding that Peters, Staley and Tyron Smith deserve to join Joe Thomas here. Peters and Staley are easy to defend. But why Smith? Because the Cowboys are building the Great Wall of Dallas 2.0 for Ezekiel Elliott, and I see the team becoming the class of the NFC for the rest of the decade (if they aren’t already).
Jahri Evans, Saints
Marshall Yanda, Ravens
Logan Mankins, Patriots/Bucs
Zack Martin, Cowboys
Granted, I wouldn’t recognize Marshall Yanda if he ran me move over with a hover board. But I know plenty of yappy Ravens fans and they talk about Yanda like he’s the second coming of John Hannah. Speaking of Hannah, he is one of a select number of players who made two All-Decade teams (1970s and 1980s), joining the likes of Dick Butkis, Warren Sapp, Jack Lambert, Walter Payton, Jerry Rice and Sean Landeta.
Yup, Landeta was the punter for the 1980s and 1990s All-Decade teams. A few years ago I was in a Stop & Shop in my hometown and there was Landeta, sitting at a table waiting for people to ask him for an autograph. I wanted to throw a raincoat over his head and hustle him away before anyone else realized that one of the best punters in league history was hawking his signature right next to the cantaloupes.
By the way, Ray Guy, who finally became the first punter elected to the hall, was the highest vote-getter for the 1970s team. But stop trying to distract me with all this talk about punters, those paragons of surrender! We were talking about guards — and Yanda, Mankins and Jahri Evans (a three-time All-Pro this decade) earn the nod, along with another up-and-comer from Dallas, Zack Martin (no relation).
By the way, I am not a Dallas fan. In fact, I doubt you could look at my selections for this All-Decade team and figure out which franchise I support. On that note, let’s move on to center, where future Hall of Famer, future Super Bowl champion and all-around great person Maurkice Pouncey plies his trade as the Picasso of his position.
Maurkice Pouncey, Steelers
Nick Mangold, Jets
Ryan Kalil, Panthers
Alex Mack, Browns and Falcons
Travis Frederick, Cowboys
There are currently 12 centers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and two of them (Mike Webster and Dermonti Dawson) played for the Steelers. When Pouncey retires and joins them in Canton, Pittsburgh will have almost 25 percent of the best centers to ever play the game. All of this is no doubt helped by Pittsburgh’s conference-leading 15 AFC Championship Game appearances and league-leading six Super Bowl titles. These guys have name recognition. I mean, at some point every game you have to tell the audience whose butt keeps laying those eggs to the golden boy quarterback.
Centers are more well-known than guards, but they aren’t as well-represented in Canton (where 19 guards have been enshrined). As a small nod to this wrong, my selection committee has more than doubled the usual number of centers for this team.
Tom Brady, Patriots
Aaron Rodgers, Packers
I think everyone outside the six states to the right of New York can agree that Brady was up to some shadiness involving Deflategate. He’s also a maddeningly terrific player who has pretty much owned the rest of the league throughout his career. He and Manning were the QBs on the 2000s All-Decade team, with Brady barely edging out Manning for first-team honors. There’s no such competition this time — because Manning is retired and missed the entire 2011 season to injury. Meanwhile, Brady spent his recent four-game Deflategate suspension sunning his white ass in Italy, then returned and didn’t miss a beat.
I hate him. (I wish the Steelers had him because Landry Jones drives me to drink grain alcohol.)
If passing statistics were the lone measuring stick, you could argue for Brees. If you wanted to argue for the future, you could lobby within reason for Russell Wilson. But if winning MVPs and Super Bowl rings is the standard for pantheon-level quarterbacks (which is where we lose Roethlisberger and Newton and, uh, Tony Romo), then the only other guys this decade who can hang with Brady are Manning and Aaron Rodgers.
Look at their resumes for this decade:
Manning: 1 Super Bowl win in two appearances, 5-4 playoff record, 1 MVP.
Rodgers: 1 Super Bowl win in one appearance, 7-5 playoff record, 2 MVPs.
If the decade ended today, I would probably say they’re tied. But it’s not ending today (we hope). And whether you think Rodgers has lost a step in the last year and a half, and that his best days are behind him, he has one big advantage over Manning: He’s dating Olivia Munn, err, I mean, he’s still playing. The book on Manning is closed, but Rodgers is still working on this decade’s resume.
Adrian Peterson, Vikings
Marshawn Lynch, Bills/Seahawks
A wide receiver has never won NFL MVP, which is a travesty since the honor has gone to a placekicker (Mark Moseley) and to several defenders. Who would disagree that the best, most exciting players in the game today are wide receivers such as Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr. and A.J. Green? And who would disagree that spending early fantasy draft picks on the likes of Devonta Freeman, Doug Martin and Eddie Lacy was largely the product of habit?
The running back position has definitely taken a back seat in the pass-heavy league. The NFL isn’t going to change its rules to revert back to a run-first offensive philosophy because that’s not what fans want to see. The emphasis on deep throws and phantom pass interference calls is here to stay. Consequently, I’m changing my mind and we’re expanding the roster for wide receivers and shrinking the roster for running backs. A.J. Green and Larry Fitzgerald? You’re on the team! Running backs other than A.P. and Beast Mode? Sorry, but you’re not.
Snubbed: Le’Veon Bell, LeSean McCoy, Ezekiel Elliott