Jared Allen, who became a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist in his first year of eligibility, was eliminated in the first round of cuts when the 48-member selection committee met virtually on Jan. 19 to choose the Class of 2021.
The former Vikings defensive end, a four-time first-team All-Pro whose 136 sacks rank 12th on the NFL career list, joined linebacker Sam Mills, cornerback Ronde Barber and receivers Torry Holt and Reggie Wayne among the cuts from 15 to 10.
The committee, which includes this reporter, met for 8 hours, 42 minutes. The discussion on Allen lasted only 8 minutes, 2 seconds — the second-shortest of 18 discussions behind only Peyton Manning, the record five-time MVP whose obvious first-ballot, slam-dunk case needed only 21 seconds to essentially present the legendary quarterback's name.
The modern-era players joining Manning in the Class of 2021 are defensive back and fellow first-ballot no-brainer Charles Woodson; receiver and another first-ballot selection Calvin Johnson; guard Alan Faneca; and safety John Lynch. Also selected were seniors candidate Drew Pearson, the former Cowboys receiver; contributors candidate Bill Nunn, a pioneering Black scout who helped build the Steelers' dynasty of the 1970s; and coaches candidate Tom Flores, the two-time Super Bowl winner with the Raiders.
Rounding out the final 10 of the modern-era candidates were safety LeRoy Butler, offensive tackle Tony Boselli, defensive lineman Richard Seymour and linebackers Clay Matthews Jr. and Zach Thomas.
The selectors trimmed the list from 10 to five but weren't told who the final five were. Normally, the selectors are told who the final five are before voting yes or no on each of the five. It takes 80% yes votes to get in.
This year, the selectors were told to vote yes or no on each of the final 10 as if each of them had made the final five. The change in protocol was done to prevent selectors from leaking news of the final five three weeks ahead of the announcement during the NFL Honors telecast in Tampa on Saturday night, the eve of Super Bowl LV. Normally, the committee meets in person the day of the announcement.
Selectors aren't permitted to reveal specifics on the discussions that take place, but in general terms, here were the key obstacles Allen faced in advancing beyond the first cut:
• There were strong, lengthy discussions about whether the committee has selected too many first-ballot Hall of Famers in recent years. With Manning and Woodson as first-ballot locks this year and Johnson having strong backing as a third first-ballot selection, Allen essentially was dismissed out of hand by a majority of selectors. Only two selectors spoke during Allen's discussion. This reporter gave the opening presentation, which is limited to five minutes. The selector from Kansas City also spoke briefly. No other selectors requested to speak either for or against Allen.
• Matthews, who was in his 20th year of eligibility, got a surprising burst in his first year as a finalist in part because this was his last shot before moving into the seniors category. Other candidates who gained extra attention because they've been waiting a long time were Butler, who is the only modern-era member of the all-decade teams of the '70s, '80s and '90s not in the Hall; Lynch, who was in his eighth straight year as a finalist; and Faneca, a six-time All-Pro guard in his sixth year as a finalist.
• There were strong discussions on how to judge great but short careers in general, and Boselli in particular. Boselli, who was in his fifth year as a finalist, was a three-time first-team All-Pro but played only 97 games, including playoffs, in a career cut short by a botched shoulder surgery. The sense is more selectors are opening up to selecting more great players with short careers.
Here are the lengths of each discussion:
Johnson (39:16), Lynch (37:14), Boselli (32:00), Nunn (31:02), Pearson (28:46), Flores (27:59), Wayne (25:30), Mills (20:57), Matthews (20:24), Butler (18:02), Woodson (16:50), Thomas (16:03), Faneca (13:08), Seymour (12:43), Holt (11:17), Barber (8:22), Allen (8:02), Manning (21 seconds).
Allen's path could get even more crowded in 2022. Among the list of first-year candidates for next year is DeMarcus Ware, whose 138½ sacks rank three spots ahead of Allen on the NFL's career list.
Speaking to the Star Tribune before the vote, Allen said, "It would be ridiculous of me to be ticked off and complain if five of the guys on this list get in ahead of me.
"The committee has the hardest job in the world because it's trying to compare the 1 percent with the 1 percent in NFL history," Allen said. "I'll never be that guy whose feelings get all hurt. I look at that list and I get it.
"If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't. There's always next year. Now that I'm in the finals, I think it'll happen eventually. And that's OK."