NFL All-Decade team: 2000-2009
Peyton Manning or Tom Brady at quarterback?
Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens or Randy Moss at wide receiver?
Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed or Brian Dawkins at safety?
As you can see, picking starters for an all-decade NFL team isn’t easy. There is so much talent to choose from that some record-holders and future Hall of Fame players will be on the bench.
As one of 44 selectors, I have a vote for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s all-decade squad. The Hall will announce multiple picks at all positions, so two quarterbacks and six linebackers for example, when the team is unveiled on January 27.
This is good news (see my complete ballot at the bottom). I now don’t feel badly about snubbing some greats from my “Decade Dream Team” if forced to name only starters.
Here is what my first-team units would look like and why:
QB: Peyton Manning
Brady’s postseason success and three Super Bowl wins since 2001 is what will separate him on other ballots from Manning, who has “just” one ring in eight seasons of Indianapolis playoff berths. But Manning leads the league in almost every major passing category this decade -- including victories by a starter (115) – and is en route to an unprecedented fourth NFL Most Valuable Player award. Another factor I took into account was Manning starting every game for 10 years while Brady sat for two seasons in New England (2000 as a rookie and 2008 because of a knee injury). The margin between Manning and Brady is so close that I would love to have another 40 days to decide this. By then, we’ll know whether Manning or Brady have won another title.
RB: LaDainian Tomlinson
The team’s lightning bolt logo was dimming until drafting Tomlinson in 2001. L.T. has more rushing yards (12,489) and touchdowns (138) than any other running back this decade with no competition in sight. Tomlinson’s numbers have gradually dipped since an 1,815-yard campaign in 2006 and he has battled injuries in the past two postseasons. But the 30-year-old Tomlinson still has enough gas left in the tank to help pace the 2009 Chargers on a Super Bowl run.
FB: Lorenzo Neal
Five of Tomlinson’s best seasons (2003 to 2007) came with Neal clearing the way. Neal also blocked for two other 1,000-yard rushers in Tennessee’s Eddie George and Cincinnati’s Corey Dillon. Neal even had decent hands a receiver, catching 199 passes over the course of his 17-year career.
WR: Marvin Harrison, Randy Moss
No T.O.? It’s so. Moss had more yards and touchdowns this decade and remains one of the NFL’s scariest wideouts (albeit when he wants to be). Manning might not have enjoyed the same success without Harrison, who was a model of consistency with at least 82 catches and 1,100 receiving yards each season between 2000 and 2006. I would actually rank Owens as my No. 4 receiver behind Torry Holt, who excelled throughout the decade even as the Greatest Show on Turf crumbled. T.O.’s numbers rank with the best of them, but the internal havoc he wreaked during his stops in San Francisco, Philadelphia and Dallas knock him down a peg.
TE: Tony Gonzalez
The most prolific receiver at his position in NFL history, Gonzalez has averaged 83 catches a season this decade. Gonzalez excelled in Kansas City despite being surrounded by a mediocre group of receivers.
T: Jonathan Ogden, Walter Jones
At 6-foot-9 and 345 pounds, Ogden looked like a dancing bear with claws while manning left tackle for Baltimore from 1996 through 2007. Although injury-plagued the past two seasons, Jones is one of the most technically sound linemen to ever play. If I were to choose a pure right tackle, ex-Cincinnati and Baltimore standout Willie Anderson would get the nod.
G: Steve Hutchinson, Alan Faneca
“Hutch” became the highest-paid guard in NFL history for good reason in 2006. Four seasons later, Seattle still hasn’t recovered from the departure of this six-time Pro Bowl selection. Faneca has earned even more trips to Hawaii (eight) in his time with Pittsburgh and the New York Jets.
C: Kevin Mawae
I’ll never forget former Denver coach Mike Shanahan singing Mawae’s praises to me during the 1998 season as the prototype center. Shanahan was right. Eleven years later, Mawae is still going strong. He can even pull effectively at age 38.
DE: Jason Taylor, Michael Strahan
I had the privilege of covering Taylor with the Miami Dolphins on a daily basis from 1999 to 2006. Taylor has more sacks (111) than any other defensive player this decade while only missing nine starts because of injury. Taylor was athletic enough to shift to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme in 2005 (not to mention land a spot on "Dancing With the Stars"). Strahan has gone Hollywood as well after ending his stellar career with the New York Giants with a victory in Super Bowl XLII. Strahan’s single-season record of 22.5 sacks has stood since 2001.
DT: Richard Seymour, Warren Sapp
Whether in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme, Seymour was the key to the success of New England’s front seven during their three championship runs. His presence is sorely missed since being traded to Oakland during the preseason. Sapp ended his career with the Raiders after the 2007 campaign, but it’s his time in Tampa Bay that will be remembered most. When at his peak early this decade, Sapp was the NFL’s most dominating interior lineman.
LB: Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, Derrick Brooks
Talent isn’t the only thing that separates this trio from the pack. Lewis, Urlacher and Brooks also are known for team leadership and intensity that raises the level of play from those around them. Lewis is the NFL’s most intimidating linebacker since Jack Lambert. Urlacher is a freak of nature, big enough to effectively rush the passer and shed run blocks yet nimble enough to smother tight ends and running backs in coverage. As for Brooks, he will be remembered as the quintessential weak-side linebacker in Tampa Bay’s renowned “cover-two” defense.
CB: Nnamdi Asomugha, Champ Bailey
The fact Asomugha has only three interceptions in the past three seasons is actually a statistic that works in his favor. Teams simply don’t want to throw in his direction when playing Oakland. With 42 picks each, Bailey and Philadelphia’s Asante Samuel are second in interceptions among cornerbacks this decade behind Charles Woodson (45). I’m giving Bailey the nod because he was a more consistent player the past 10 seasons than Woodson, who didn’t truly hit his stride until joining Green Bay in 2006.
S: Brian Dawkins, Ed Reed
The fact I’m leaving Polamalu off my starting team will show you the high regard with which I hold Dawkins and Reed. The heart and soul of Philadelphia’s defense since 1996, Dawkins is still held in such regard by Eagles fans that he received a standing ovation when taking the field for Denver last Sunday during pregame introductions. Dawkins has more Pro Bowl appearances this decade (seven) than any safety. Because Lewis is so charismatic and productive, Reed doesn’t get the credit he deserves for helping Baltimore enjoy a decade of defensive dominance. There isn’t anyone better at making pre-snap offensive reads. No safety today makes a bigger impact on his defense than Polamalu, who can be deployed in a variety of different ways. But injuries and a lack of longevity – he was drafted in 2003 and didn’t start as a rookie – make Polamalu a backup on this roster.
K: Adam Vinatieri
While with New England, Vinatieri made the two most clutch kicks in league history to win Super Bowls XXXV and XXXIX. That separates him from the pack.
P: Shane Lechler
Playing on a Raiders team with seven seasons of double-digit losses has given Lechler plenty of opportunities to ply his craft. Lechler, though, has delivered with an NFL-best 47.3-yard net average since 2000. He is currently on pace to set the league’s single-season record for net average at 51.1 yards.
Returner: Dante Hall
Hall’s 12,397 punt and kickoff return yardage was tops for any player this decade. Hall also had six kickoff returns for touchdown, which was the highest total this decade until Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs notched his eighth career score earlier this month.
Head coach: Bill Belichick
No coach has won more Super Bowls this decade. He also made NFL history by guiding New England to the first 18-0 record in 2007 before a close loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Those accomplishments -- plus continued success and some of the NFL’s most creative game plans on a consistent basis -- overshadow the damage to Belichick’s reputation caused by the Spygate scandal.
Below is Alex Marvez’s ballot for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s all-decade team. Players at each position are listed alphabetically:
Quarterbacks (2): Tom Brady, Peyton Manning
Running backs (4): Shaun Alexander, Edgerrin James, Jamal Lewis, LaDainian Tomlinson
Fullback (1): Lorenzo Neal
Wide receivers (4): Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens
Tight ends (2): Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez
Offensive tackles (4): Willie Anderson, Walter Jones, Jon Ogden, Orlando Pace
Guards (4): Larry Allen, Alan Faneca, Steve Hutchinson, Will Shields
Centers (2): Matt Birk, Kevin Mawae
Defensive ends (4): Dwight Freeney, Julius Peppers, Michael Strahan, Jason Taylor
Defensive tackles (4): Warren Sapp, Richard Seymour, Kevin Williams, Pat Williams
Linebackers (6): Derrick Brooks, Tedy Bruschi, Keith Brooking, Ray Lewis, Zach Thomas, Brian Urlacher
Cornerbacks (4): Nnamdi Asomugha, Champ Bailey, Ronde Barber, Charles Woodson
Safeties (4): Brian Dawkins, John Lynch, Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed
Kickers (2): Matt Stover, Adam Vinatieri
Punters (2): Shane Lechler, Brian Moorman
Kick returners (2): Joshua Cribbs, Dante Hall
Punt returners (2): Dante Hall, Devin Hester
Head coaches (2): Bill Belichick, Tony Dungy