FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Arguably the biggest surprise of Wednesday’s New England Patriots Hall of Fame Nomination Committee meeting was the stalemate among voters between senior candidates Raymond Clayborn (cornerback) and Leon Gray (offensive tackle).
It sparks the question of whether either will break the 80 percent senior threshold in the coming years to earn induction.
Both Clayborn and Gray have strong cases to be in the Patriots Hall of Fame. They have been finalists multiple times in the general voting, but the way the process is set up -- three finalists are chosen by the committee by a vote and then one is chosen by fans for induction -- can make it more challenging for players who played in the 1970s (Gray) and into the 1980s (Clayborn) compared to those who suited up more recently.
In 2013, for example, Gray was up against finalists Tedy Bruschi and Chuck Fairbanks. Bruschi won in a landslide.
In 2014, Clayborn was a finalist alongside Ty Law and Bill Parcells. Law won in a landslide.
In 2015, both Clayborn and Gray had an uphill climb against the other finalist, Willie McGinest. No surprise that McGinest won in a landslide.
And last year, Clayborn was up against Kevin Faulk and Mike Vrabel, with Faulk edging him out.
Of the 10 previous fan selections, eight of those candidates were also the highest vote-getters among the committee.
So at this point, it seems the best chance for Clayborn and Gray to be inducted is through the seniors committee, which is comprised of 10 voters. A senior candidate needs eight of 10 votes to be inducted.
What makes this significant in 2017 is that it marked the first time Clayborn was eligible as a senior candidate (those who have been retired 25 years). Clayborn, Gray, safety Fred Marion and running back Ron Burton were the four senior candidates under consideration this year, because they had previously been finalists in the general voting.
Wednesday’s meeting began with the senior committee discussing and debating those four candidates and then the votes were tallied. This was important because if a candidate didn’t receive 80 percent of the vote, they could still be nominated in the general pool of candidates.
With no one hitting the 80 percent mark, it then led to a discussion on the general pool of candidates, with members of the committee being handed out a sheet on kicker John Smith for consideration from a fan backing Smith's candidacy.
Ultimately, offensive tackle Matt Light, defensive lineman Richard Seymour, Clayborn, Vrabel, Gray, safety Rodney Harrison, receiver Randy Moss and coaches Parcells and Fairbanks were nominated for a vote.
There was some passionate discussion on each candidate, as well as talk on what it meant to be a Patriots Hall of Famer, which has a different meaning to those in the room. For me, a combination of longevity, performance and representing the franchise in Hall of Fame-like fashion are the key ingredients.
The Patriots will announce the three finalists on April 20, with a fan vote on Patriots.com going through May 15.