It's been a debate since he retired in 2009: Will Kurt Warner make the Hall of Fame?
There are plenty of arguments one way or the other, but the consensus is far from clear. Warner's Hall worthiness regained the spotlight on barstools around the country this week when the Arizona Cardinals announced Warner would be added to the team's Ring of Honor -- an accomplishment in the vein of which hasn't been bestowed by the St. Louis Rams, the team Warner won a Super Bowl with.
Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Rams reporter Nick Wagoner discussed the merits of Warner's inclusion in -- or exclusion from -- the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The first question was obvious -- Is Warner a Hall of Famer? And if so, does he deserve to be inducted on his first ballot?
Wagoner: Yes, I have little doubt in my mind that he is a Hall of Famer. I'm not sure he'll go on the first ballot, but I certainly wouldn't disagree if he did. There seems to be a certain mystique that goes with getting in on the first try. Not that it's reserved only for the elite of the elite, but there are still a lot of good players waiting their turn, and for someone to surpass them, they need to have extensive resumes, perhaps one that exceeds Warner's. On top of that, Warner will have plenty of other strong first-time nominees who will also be trying to push their way into the mix. I definitely think he'll get in. I'm less certain it's on the first try, but either way it's just a matter of time, in my opinion.
Weinfuss: I feel very similarly. Yes, I think he's a Hall of Famer and I don't think he'll wait long to don that yellow blazer, but it may not be in 2015. I think the mystique of a first-ballot Hall of Famer is an interesting topic. In Warner's case, he took two teams to three Super Bowls. That alone is an accomplishment, but to start doing it at 28 years old with the kind of backstory Warner had makes it even more mystical. Obviously that doesn't determine whether Warner will make the Hall of Fame, but it makes his success all the more impressive and adds to his Hall of Fame-worthy resume.
What would get Kurt in the Hall? Subsequently, what would keep him out?
Wagoner: There are a few really strong arguments to get him in. First, he led two franchises to the Super Bowl. That just doesn't happen, especially so far apart. To add to that, the Cardinals and Rams were in pretty bad shape when he took over and got them to the promised land. It's important he won Super Bowl XXXIV with the Rams, so he has that on the resume, too. Second, in terms of numbers, Warner led some of the most prolific and dynamic offenses in league history. The group in St. Louis was record-breaking, and he won two MVPs in that time. Third, and this isn't as tangible as the others, but I'm a big believer in how a player fits in the narrative of the game's history. In other words, can you tell the best possible story of the NFL without Warner playing a fairly prominent role? I don't think you can. And the fact that you can tell his grocery store stock-shelver to Super Bowl MVP story and then add to it that he took the Cardinals to within an eyelash of a world championship, well, that's stuff you just can't leave out in the story of the league.
As for what would keep him out, the only thing that really works against him is sample size. While his per-year numbers are on par with or better than most Hall of Fame quarterbacks, he didn't do it as long as guys such as Joe Montana, John Elway or Dan Marino did. That probably hurts him the most. I suppose you could argue he also benefited greatly from playing with a lot of superior talent, but I'd argue that Warner helped those players as much as they helped him. The only other thing that could potentially hold him back is he's going to be up for it for the first time with some of his other Greatest Show on Turf teammates. Some voters may place more value on what someone such as Orlando Pace or Isaac Bruce did, and it could steal some votes from Warner.
Weinfuss: When I think of a Hall of Fame player, I think of someone who not only is in the upper echelon of talent but of someone who plays such a vital part in his team's success. Warner is clearly talented, but was he in the upper echelon of players when he was in the NFL? That's a topic to discuss on its own, but look at what he did in the offenses he succeeded in. He showed his well of talent. But what was more telling is how the franchises fared before and after his tenures. St. Louis went through nine losing seasons dating back to its Los Angeles days before Warner was named the starter. All he did was lead the Rams to two Super Bowls in three seasons, winning the first. Since he was replaced as the starter following Super Bowl XXXVI, St. Louis had just one winning season in 12 years. He had the same impact on the Cardinals. They hadn't ever been past the divisional round of the playoffs before Warner arrived. Here's this for emphasis: Arizona had one winning season before Warner was given the keys to the Cards' offense. While he was the starter, Arizona had two winning seasons in three years. Since he retired, the Cards have had just one, this past season. Talk about someone who nearly instantly changed the trajectory of a franchise while he was there.
What will keep him out is the total body of work. When you break down Warner's career, he only played four full or nearly full seasons. Granted, he went to three Super Bowls in those years, but he had too many off seasons in which he started 10 or fewer games. Can a player get in by having only a few great seasons and almost twice as many not-so-great years? I think if he doesn't make it, that's why.
How much do you think his stint with the Cardinals helps his case?
Wagoner: Honestly, I think it sealed the deal for him getting in. Without it, he'd be viewed an awful lot like former Broncos running back Terrell Davis, who had a few really outstanding, record-breaking years, but it appears a lack of longevity is going to keep him from being inducted. But Warner's resurgence in Arizona added to a story that had already reached mythical proportions and also allowed him to elevate his numbers to something more in line with other great quarterbacks. That he then darn near took them to a world championship on top of it only is the icing on the cake.
Weinfuss: If he gets in, his final three seasons, or more specifically the final two with the Cardinals, will be looked at as the turning point. He came back after a string of off years, after thoughts of retirement, after being passed over for an inexperienced rookie to become the fourth-oldest quarterback -- at the time the third-oldest -- quarterback to start a Super Bowl. It was the storybook ending to a career that was made for Hollywood, but the fact he took a franchise that had never gotten to the Super Bowl and became the missing part could end up being the deciding factor in voters' decisions.