During the 2006 offseason, few teams showed interest in free agent Charles Woodson. The cornerback had missed 10 games the previous season and was months away from turning 30. General managers scoffed at the idea of paying him top dollar.
But Green Bay's Ted Thompson saw value, and gave Woodson a $52 million deal — a telling sign for anyone familiar with Thompson's track record in free agency. In six seasons Woodson has made good on his end of the deal, having produced countless game-changing plays as the centerpiece for one of the league's most respected defenses.
His play these past few years also has generated Pro Football Hall of Fame buzz. But, has Woodson done enough over the course of his career? Here is how his résumé stacks up …
Statistics: Woodson creates turnovers like few others at his position. He has 52 career interceptions (two fewer than Darrell Green, one fewer than Deion Sanders) and has forced 28 fumbles. But perhaps the more impressive statistic is how many of those turnovers he has turned into touchdowns — 12. Woodson has never returned a kickoff or punt for a touchdown, but proved his first two seasons in Green Bay that he could be a very good punt returner. Woodson also can be proud of his 14½ career sacks.
Success: Woodson played no small part in helping Oakland and Green Bay each reach a Super Bowl (many would add that had it not been for the Tuck Rule, his hit on Tom Brady in the 2001 playoffs would have helped Oakland to another). And the fact that he has a ring from Super Bowl XLV will help his campaign.
HOF Comparison: Rod Woodson
Both men were ballhawks who made big plays from the defensive side of the football. Rod Woodson ranks first in NFL interception returns for touchdowns with 12 — one more than Charles Woodson. And Rod Woodson, like Charles, was successful at a variety of spots in the defensive backfield.
Accolades: Not a lot of men can claim to have won both NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (1998) and NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2009). Charles Woodson also has earned seven trips to the Pro Bowl and a pair of All-Pro nods. That compares favorably to some of the game's all-time great defensive backs — Mel Blount (5/2), Mike Haynes (9/2), Lem Barney (7/2). And even though it was a college accomplishment — and therefore off limits for Canton consideration — Hall of Fame voters can't help but appreciate that Woodson remains the only defender to win the Heisman Trophy.
Intangibles: Woodson has aged well. He has been invited to three Pro Bowls (and counting) after the age of 32, and in 2011 — at the age of 35 — is on pace to collect his first ever double-digit season for interceptions. In fact, roughly two-thirds of his career picks have come after the age of 30. Whereas other elite skill position players fade during the final stretch of their careers, Woodson has gotten better. Hall of Fame voters also might make note of the leadership role Woodson has assumed toward the end of his career.
First ballot candidate: Maybe
HOF Probability: 90 percent
Going to Green Bay saved Woodson's candidacy, quite frankly. Before that, he was one of the NFL's best corners, but his career appeared to have peaked. The Packers (mostly defensive coordinator Dom Capers) have given him new life and have allowed Woodson to do all of the things he does well (roam the field, play physical, blitz, etc.).
Woodson will get in, but if he is denied entrance on the first ballot it might only be because there are a number of outstanding defensive backs (Ed Reed, Champ Bailey) reaching the twilight of their careers, and rarely do voters elect two from the secondary in the same class.
Mike Beacom is a pro and college football writer whose work has appeared in numerous print and online sources. He is also the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Football (Alpha, 2010). Follow him on twitter @mbeac