“Of that first-team All-Decade defense from the 1990s, who is not in the Hall of Fame? Two guys: LeRoy Butler and Steve Atwater.”
Nevertheless, the wait remains frustrating, just as it was for Terrell Davis, who was eligible for 10 years before he was inducted last year. Here’s why Lynch’s time out of the Hall needs to end now:
His lineage of accomplishments demands inclusion
When Lynch was a finalist in 2018, there were two defensive players eligible for the Hall of Fame with nine Pro Bowl selections and two or more first-team All-Pro nods who are not in the Hall: Lynch and fellow finalist Brian Dawkins, who then became part of the 2018 class. Lynch’s absence is further testament to how safety remains perhaps the most overlooked position in the Hall of Fame discussion.
He’s a legend of two teams
Thousands of players have played for multiple teams in their NFL careers. Only a small handful have earned induction into the collection of distinguished players for multiple teams — whether it goes by “Ring of Fame,” as it does in Denver, or “Ring of Honor,” as teams such as the Buccaneers use.
In 2016, Lynch was inducted into the Broncos’ Ring of Fame and the Bucs’ Ring of Honor. Both distinctions were well-deserved. Lynch is one of just two players in Broncos history to play at least four seasons with the team and make a Pro Bowl each time. In Tampa Bay, he earned five Pro Bowl selections and two All-Pro nods. The histories of the Bucs and Broncos cannot be written without mentioning No. 47.
As a member of two teams’ most prestigious collection of players, Lynch stands alongside Hall of Famers such as Charles Haley, Paul Warfield, Vince Lombardi, Jim Ringo, Sonny Jurgensen, Reggie White, Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk.
The fact that his work in Denver merited selection into the Ring of Fame also shows the sustained excellence of his career. Once he emerged as a full-time starter with the Buccaneers during the 1996 season, he became one of the NFL’s most feared and respected players for over a decade.
He was a core part of an iconic defense
In the 2020s, similar arguments will be made for the elite defenders of the 2015 Broncos that powered the team to its Super Bowl 50 win.
Lynch was one of three signature players who held up the banner for the Buccaneers’ defense during its run of dominance from 1997 through 2002, alongside Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks. Together, they led a once-woebegone franchise to five postseason trips, two division titles and a world championship in 2002. That title was fueled by its defense in a similar manner to the 1985 Bears, 2000 Ravens, 2013 Seahawks and 2015 Broncos.
Such defenses — along with the Vikings’ Purple People Eaters, Steelers’ Steel Curtain and Cowboys’ Doomsday Defense of the 1970s, are well-represented in Canton, with four members apiece.
And while Brian Dawkins and Ed Reed are certainly deserving of that honor, it was Steve Atwater who set the tone for the physical, versatile safeties who have stretched the boundaries of how the position could impact the game.
“It’s just a combination that nobody else had. He was a tremendous pass rusher,” said former Broncos defensive coordinator and head coach Wade Phillips, who coached Mecklenburg for the final six seasons of his 12-year Broncos career.
“I’ve never been around anybody that played inside ‘backer as well as he did. He was great at it. And then on third down, you’d put him outside and let him rush.”