By John Turney
The Boston Herald published an article that has been picked up by Bleacher Report and others posing the question if Rob Gronkowski is a first-ballot lock or not. It seems the consensus of the Hall of Famer voters they spoke to stated they think Gronk is a Hall of Famer but not a lock for first-ballot.
The negative factor is if he's played long enough to warrant that extra cachet of being a first-ballot selection. In our view, they have been a few players who got in recently on the first ballot who lowered the bar of that elite status so we're not sure it matters as much as it used to.
Regardless, short career guys do get in. Gale Sayers got in on the first try, deservedly so, even though he only played 7 seasons and 68 games. In the researcher world that became known as the "Gale Sayers exception" meaning that in general, voters liked sustained and prolonged greatness—longevity. In the past couple of decades Dwight Stephenson, Ken Easley, Terrell Davis all were enshrined, though Easley had to wait and get in via the seniors committee.
Thus, shorter careers have been honored and in out study of the subject, longevity is nowhere near as important as it was in the 1980s or 1990s when the voters would talk about it as a key factor in their decisions.
So, in the Paul Zimmerman coined line (for the Lynn Swann HOF debate) "What do you want quality or quantity"? Well, most people would say both, but if you have to choose, what would it be?
When Dwight Stephenson was making the Final 15 Mike Webster was, too. They essentially went head-to-head in 1996 when Zimmerman used that talking point for Stephenson, who he thought was the best center in NFL history. When the voters came to the press conference after the vote we briefly spoke to Will McDonough who, when asked why Webster was omitted, jsut shook his head and muttered "Seventeen years". Yes, 17 years.
So, to Gronk.
Here are his career honors compared with the HOF tight ends and some other HOF hopefuls. We are assuming Gronk will be an All-Decade pick for the 2010s:
That leaves the eye test and every Hall of Fame voters has his or her own. We think Gronk passes the ole' eye test in wonderful fashion. The way he was used as a receiver, his ability to make tough catches, his blocking. The whole package. The only thing we would do is use him as a safety on Hail Mary passes.
We don't know if Gronk will be first-ballot or not if he retires and does not play another down in the NFL but we also think nine years is enough to determine if someone is a G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) or not.
However, our prediction is he will not be first-ballot if it's a strong class . . . the voters likely will hold the longevity thing against him. But no matter, he's going to get in early. If not first, then second.
That's our take.