Have at It: Urlacher and the Hall of Fame

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

I know. This is the type of post you write when a player announces his retirement, suffers a career-ending injury or otherwise signals his time remaining on the field is short. None of those qualifications exist for Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher, who at this point is fully expected to return in 2010 after dislocating his wrist Sunday night at Green Bay.

But let’s face it. When the Bears open training camp next summer, Urlacher will be 32 and four seasons removed from his last Pro Bowl team. He’s played 138 games in his career, and it’s safe to say that his body of work is largely in the books. So for this week’s "Have at It," let’s discuss whether Urlacher has done enough to be a legitimate candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In the history of the game, 19 linebackers have been enshrined. You can view a list of them here. Of that group, only four began their careers after 1980. I pulled some numbers and accomplishments for that group -- Mike Singletary, Andre Tippett, Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas -- to give you a reference point for the standards the voters have most recently looked for. (I didn’t include tackles because they are an unofficial stat and vary based on which linebacker position you play.)

The big question voters will ask is if Urlacher dominated his era, and that should be a primary focus of this debate. Did he have a few dominant years, or was he a game-changer for a generation? Those are two questions to consider. His central role in making the Bears’ defense a blueprint for the league will be reviewed, as will his status as one of five players in NFL history to win both the Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards.

Again, this is no post-mortem. Urlacher have a chance to add a finishing flourish to his legacy. The wrist injury has spared him a year of pounding and could eventually extend the timetable of his career. But while Urlacher is likely to return, it’s reasonable to expect voters to most closely scrutinize his heyday from 2000-06.

As usual, we’ll meet back here Friday morning to hash it all out. Have at It.