When Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and others hoisted the Lombardi Trophy on the night of February 2, 2020, legacies were being made. Rightly or wrongly, Super Bowl victories seem to disproportionately influence Hall of Fame voters. Take a look at these two quarterbacks, for example:
Player A is former Los Angeles Chargers and current Indianapolis Colts QB Philip Rivers, who is typically regarded as a shoo-in for the proverbial Hall of Very Good but seems unlikely to make the actual Hall of Fame. Player B is former New York Giants QB Eli Manning, who won two very memorable Super Bowls over the New England Patriots and consequently seems like a lock for the Hall, despite largely mediocre career production. Super Bowls matter to voters.
With that in mind, today we look at the Hall of Fame candidacy of several current Chiefs. We’re going to break them into tiers: Locks (85-100% chance of election), Good Bets (65-85%), Even Money (40-65%), and Outside Chance (less than 40%). In Part 1, we’ll look at the Locks and Good Bets. Let’s begin with the Locks.
Andy Reid, head coach
We start with Big Red for obvious reasons. The narrative knock on Reid, even before he came to Kansas City, was that he couldn’t win the big one. He made four NFC Championship games as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, but won just one. In his only previous Super Bowl appearance, his Eagles lost to Bill Belichick’s Patriots 24-21. As head coach of the Chiefs, Reid was 1-4 in the playoffs in the B.P.M. Era (Before Patrick Mahomes), and 2-5 after his first postseason run with Mahomes ended in an AFC Championship game loss at Arrowhead.
If we’d done this list on February 1, 2020, the night before the Super Bowl, Reid would still have found his way into the “Good Bets” tier at least. He’s seventh all-time in wins as a coach with 207, and he will pass Paul Brown for sixth place with his seventh victory in 2020. That’s 14 more victories than Steelers’ legend Chuck Noll, 35 more than the great Bill Parcells, and 58 more than recent Hall inductee Bill Cowher. He’s also currently sixth all-time in playoff wins with 15, but even before the Chiefs’ run in 2020, his 12 victories were good for an eighth-place tie with Cowher and future Hall of Famer Tom Coughlin.
Reid is a lock for the Hall of Fame if he retires tomorrow, but if he continues coaching beyond 2020, with Patrick Mahomes as his quarterback, he could easily add another Lombardi or three to his resume, and pass Curly Lambeau’s 226 career victories to break into the top five winningest coaches in NFL history. Big Red had better start writing that speech.
Patrick Mahomes, quarterback
The only argument anyone can make against Patrick Mahomes’ Hall of Fame candidacy is “It’s too soon!” This is true in the strictest sense: if Patrick Mahomes retired tomorrow, he probably would not make the Hall of Fame, although we can’t entirely rule it out. Mahomes is already one of three quarterbacks ever to throw for 50 touchdowns in a season; the other two, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, are obviously mortal locks for Canton. Mahomes is also one of nine quarterbacks ever to have won an MVP award and Super Bowl MVP, and all but one of those quarterbacks is either in Canton already or will be when eligible: Brady, Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Kurt Warner, John Elway, Joe Montana, and Bart Starr are or will be in; Phil Simms is out.
But Mahomes is not going to retire tomorrow, or anytime soon. Even if he pulled an Andrew Luck and retired after his age 29 season, he’d still be a lock for the Hall if, in the meantime, he continues to produce at anything close to his current pace. If he plays until he’s 40, he’ll rewrite every passing record in the NFL record books. One more Super Bowl MVP and he’ll be in a club of just five quarterbacks with multiple awards: Brady has four, Montana three, and Starr, Terry Bradshaw, and Eli Manning each have two. Only eight quarterbacks have won more than one league MVP award, so Mahomes would join an elite club with a second MVP trophy as well.
Barring injury, the only thing keeping Mahomes from Canton is time.
Travis Kelce, tight end
As he hugged his dad as confetti rained down after Super Bowl LIV, Travis Kelce’s father lamented that Travis “never really got the credit [he] deserved.” While unbelievable, it’s true. Until this year, Kelce continually played second fiddle to the great Rob Gronkowski, and as soon as Gronkowski retired, George Kittle seemingly took over as the apple of the league’s eye. Both Gronkowski and Kittle are or were excellent players, yet it’s Kelce who has the NFL record for most consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons by a tight end with four, and counting. Kelce is already 16th in receiving all-time by a tight end, and has never posted fewer than 67 receptions or 862 receiving yards in a season (aside from his rookie year, when he did not play due to injury). Although Kelce is noticeably less explosive on tape than he was a few years ago, you wouldn’t know it from his statistical output. He’s compensated for the loss of burst with veteran savvy. Unlike Gronkowski, Kelce has been extremely durable, not missing a single game due to injury since his lost rookie season.
So what keeps Kelce from being a Stone Cold Lock? First, his age: Kelce turns 31 this October, and is already older than Gronkowski was when he retired (before un-retiring this offseason to join the Tompa Bay Buccaneers). While Kelce continues to play at an extremely high level, it’s hard to predict when age might catch up with him. Jason Witten continues to plug along at age 38, and all-time TE receiving leader Tony Gonzalez remained productive through his retirement at age 37. On the other hand, players like Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham saw very noticeable dips in their performance in their late-20s. If Kelce can maintain anything like his current production for another five seasons, he’ll retire as one of the top three receiving tight ends of all-time, but that’s the question — can he keep it up?
The second knock on Kelce is that he doesn’t catch many touchdowns: he is 16th in receiving for tight ends, but just 36th in touchdown receptions with 37. Unfortunately for Kelce, his head coach and quarterback are not the types to force-feed any one player in the red zone, or elsewhere. Still, Kelce’s career-high of 10 touchdowns in 2018 came with Mahomes at quarterback. It’s not unreasonable to expect him to average 7-8 touchdowns per year for the next few seasons. While he’ll never have the gaudy TD numbers of Gronkowski or Antonio Gates, it’s unlikely that low TD totals will cost him a spot in Canton.
Tyreek Hill, wide receiver
Tyreek Hill was destined to begin his NFL career as a “gadget” player. This was inevitable: he came from a small school, West Alabama. He was small, standing just 5’10” with generous measuring. He had off-field question marks, and he switched positions in college, from running back to wide receiver. He was also extremely fast, running an unofficial 4.21-second 40-yard dash. John Ross’s NFL Combine record in the 40 is 4.22 seconds.
Hill was pegged as a Gadget All-Star and excelled in that role as a rookie, gaining 1,836 all-purpose yards as a receiver, runner, and returner and making First-Team All-Pro as a returner after housing two punts and one kickoff for touchdowns. Then, in his second year, a funny thing happened: he became an elite wide receiver.
Hill finished seventh in the NFL in receiving despite being targeted just 105 times; his 11.3 yards per target were second to only JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 11.6. Since entering the league in 2016, Hill ranks 21st in targets among wide receivers, but 15th in receptions, ninth in yards, fifth in touchdowns, and second in yards per target. He even ranks fifth in catch percentage, unusual for a deep threat par excellence. Hill is one of four players since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to post 1,450+ receiving yards and 12+ touchdowns in a season before turning 25. The other three are names you’ll recognize: Jerry Rice, Isaac Bruce, and Odell Beckham Jr.
Since Mahomes took over as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback, Hill has more receiving touchdowns than any other wide receiver in the NFL, despite missing time in 2019. The pair are prolific, and young - Mahomes is still 24, Hill is just 26. Pairing the league’s best deep thrower with the league’s best deep receiver seems likely to yield Hall of Fame-caliber results for years to come.
So why isn’t Hill a lock? Fairly or not, off-field allegations continue to dog Hill, even though the latest incident, in 2019, did not result in Hill being suspended, let alone charged. Hill has reportedly won sole custody of his son, and has been a visible contributor to the Kansas City community during the COVID-19 crisis; he’s beloved within Chiefs Kingdom, but still has detractors at the national level. Of course, the Pro Football Hall of Fame is chock full of players with questionable pasts, including OJ Simpson, so if Hill is judged by his on-field accomplishments alone, he has a very good shot. He just has to keep up the good work.
Chris Jones, defensive tackle
Chris Jones is the Chiefs’ best defensive player, and Pro Football Focus ranks him as the 16th best player in the NFL at any position entering the 2020 season. But I’ll be honest: I struggled with whether to place him in the “Good Bets” tier instead of “Even Money.” Why? Two factors: first, it’s tough for defensive tackles to make it into the Hall of Fame, and second, I fear Chris Jones may one day suffer from what I’ll call the Tim Raines Effect.
First, the positional issue. The NFL’s positional labels have evolved with the game (the Pro Football Hall of Fame website lists “RB/QB” as a position, and there are 24 inductees under that category), as the game itself has evolved. As interior pass rush becomes a more important fixture of the modern NFL game, perhaps Hall voters will recognize more interior linemen for their contributions. But there are currently just 18 defensive tackles in Canton, fewer than wide receiver (29), the aforementioned “RB/QB” (24), offensive line (47), linebacker (31), defensive back (34), and running back (32, if you count “halfbacks” and “fullbacks” in the same category). Chris Jones is the second-best interior player in the NFL — he’s amazing — but interior players have to really stand out to have a shot at Canton. And that brings us to the Tim Raines Effect.
Tim Raines was a superlative left-fielder for the Montreal Expos, Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, and Oakland A’s. He stole 808 bases in his career, good for fifth-most in the history of baseball, and scored the 55th-most runs in baseball history, too. He should have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first or second ballot. But there was a problem: Raines debuted in 1979, the same year as another speedy leadoff hitter and prolific base-stealer, Rickey Henderson. Raines is arguably the second-best leadoff hitter of all time. The problem is, he played at the exact same time as the undisputed best leadoff hitter ever: Henderson retired with the most runs scored and stolen bases in MLB history.
Chris Jones has a similar problem in the form of Aaron Donald. Jones is frequently in the conversation for “best interior defender not named Aaron Donald.” But will that be good enough, when he calls it quits, to get the call to Canton? Raines waited ten long years to get inducted into Cooperstown, while Henderson got in on his first ballot with nearly 95% of the vote.
Jones is such a dominant force that I still think he has a good shot at the Hall. A Super Bowl helps Jones’ candidacy, especially since Jones played so well on the biggest stage. He’s also significantly younger than Donald — unlike Raines, his career won’t entirely overlap with the GOAT at his position. But to have a realistic chance at Canton, I think, he’ll need to work himself into the conversation of best interior defender in the NFL for at least a season or two, and to do that, he’ll need to either surpass Donald or outlast him.
For members of the Chiefs who could be even-money bets or have an outside chance for the hall, stay tuned in to Arrowhead Report for Part 2 later this week.