The NFL's offseason has become almost as interesting as the regular season with player movement and activity at an all-time high. Locally in Foxborough, one of the more enjoyable events of the period comes early each April when the nomination committee convenes each year at Gillette Stadium to come up with three finalists for the Patriots Hall of Fame.
COVID-19 protocols prevented the group from meeting in person the last two years so Wednesday's gathering was a welcomed one. Eighteen members of the committee met inside the Optum Field Lounge to come up with the three most-deserving candidates to be considered for this year's induction, and the 2022 selections may prove to be among the most challenging.
There were nine former Patriots – seven players and two coaches – who received nominations. Among those eligible for discussion for the first time was Vince Wilfork, the standout nose tackle who patrolled the middle of the Patriots defense from 2004-14. His name came up about midway through the process and generated significant talk as a player who was a big part of both the early and latter portions of the team's Super Bowl runs.
Also receiving nominations on Wednesday were Wes Welker, Mike Vrabel, Bill Parcells, Logan Mankins, Lawyer Milloy, John Smith, Chuck Fairbanks and Julius Adams. All but Milloy and Smith have been nominated in the past, and Fairbanks (2013), Parcells (2011, 2012, 2014, 2020) and Vrabel (2016-20) have previously been finalists.
So which ones will make the cut in 2022?
Based on the conversations in the room that's tough to predict. The committee is prohibited from discussing the particulars of the debates and are asked only to comment on their own ballot. While many of the nominees generated plenty of positive feedback, there were disagreements as to which ones were most deserving.
In the end my ballot wasn't overly tough to fill out. While many of my colleagues weighed the options, I felt there was one player who stood out clearly among the rest and that was Welker. His production alone was enough to tip the scales, but in my mind his performance in 2008, the year Tom Brady missed after tearing his ACL, put him over the top. The team's all-time leader in receptions earned my top spot.
The second and third spots were a little more challenging but I went with Vrabel and Mankins in that order. Vrabel has been a finalist for five straight years but has yet to earn the fans' vote. His candidacy remains strong and perhaps this is the year he will break through and earn a red jacket.
Mankins was nominated in 2020 but is looking for his first spot among the finalists. An argument could be made that he is the Patriots second-best offensive lineman of all-time behind only Pro Football Hall of Famer John Hannah.
Parcells and Wilfork were the only other two that drew much consideration from me during the meeting – although Milloy's nomination was quite strong as well. In my view that group fell short of my top three, though, and now we'll wait to see how the rest of the committee felt.
The Patriots media relations staff will tabulate the votes and publish the finalists in the coming days. Shortly thereafter the voting will be made public on Patriots.com and sometime in May we'll learn the identity of the 29th member of the Patriots Hall of Fame.