Back in April, future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez suggested that he might retire if a work stoppage wiped out the 2011 season. This week, Darren Sharper pretty much said the exact same thing.
What a shame. The NFL’s active leader in receptions, yards and touchdowns among tight ends might fail to add to his totals and bolster his legacy because of the lockout. And the NFL’s active leader in interceptions might find himself in the exact same boat.
Of course, there’s a good chance that we won’t lose the entire season. Still, Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times wrote over the weekend that there’s a 70 percent chance some games will be lost. And that means the work stoppage will still alter the final numbers put up by more than a few legends in the making.
I know, life isn’t fair. But it’s still troubling to imagine players like Gonzalez and Sharper leaving the game with less to show for themselves as a result of the embarrassing battle taking place between the league and DeMaurice Smith (at this point, I refuse to group Smith with the players he “represents”).
In five years, what’s happening now could influence who the NFL’s all-time leading passer is. Peyton Manning is on pace to come very close to breaking some of Brett Favre’s records, but a few lost games could change everything. If an entire season or a good chunk of a season is lost, running backs in their prime can kiss any hope of breaking Emmitt Smith’s records for career yards and touchdowns goodbye. And it goes on and on and on.
Shifting the focus back to Gonzalez and Sharper, let’s add quantifiable context:
All-time reception leaders
1. Jerry Rice (1,549)
2. Marvin Harrison (1,102)
3. Chris Carter (1,101)
4. Tim Brown (1,094)
5. Terrell Owens (1,078)
6. Tony Gonzalez (1,069)
Gonzalez had 70 catches despite having an off year in 2010. He’d need less than half of that in 2011 to move into second place on the all-time list.
Gonzalez is currently 15th on the all-time receiving yardage list, but he’s only 919 yards short of the 10 spot (currently occupied by the “retired” Torry Holt). None of the players separating he and Holt are active. So Gonzalez is one strong season or two poor seasons short of becoming a top-10 all-time receiver in terms of yardage gained. If he’s forced to retire, Derrick Mason, Hines Ward, Chad Ochocinco and Reggie Wayne will all likely catch him (they’re all within about 1,700 yards).
As far as touchdown catches go, Gonzalez sits tied in the 10th spot with Don Maynard (they both have 88). But he’ll have to keep playing to hold off Ward (83) and, more importantly, fellow tight end Antonio Gates (69). Gonzalez is currently the all-time leader in among tight ends at all three major receiving categories, but Gates will likely pass him if Tony doesn’t play another season or two and hit the triple digits.
As far as Sharper’s situation goes, it’s fairly obvious. He has been one of the best ball-hawking defensive backs of this era. Sure, he’s also extremely versatile and can flatten receivers at will, but his interception numbers will be front and center on his Hall of Fame résumé. Here’s where he ranks:
All-time interception leaders
1. Paul Krause (81)
2. Emlen Tunnell (79)
3. Rod Woodson (71)
4. Night Train Lane (68)
5. Ken Riley (65)
T6. Ronnie Lott (63)
T6. Darren Sharper (63)
Only Riley isn’t in the Hall of Fame. Sharper lost most of 2010 due to injury, but he had nine interceptions and three pick sixes in 2009. He’s only 35 and might have enough gas left in the tank to make a charge at Woodson, who sits eight interceptions ahead. Ed Reed (54) is the only active player with a decent chance at joining that group in the top 10.
Sharper is also only one interception return touchdown short of the all-time lead in that category. Woodson leads the way with 12, Sharper’s got 11, and Charles Woodson has 10.
It’s probably safe to say that Gonzalez is a Hall of Fame lock and Sharper is very close to being a lock. But if they’re forced to retire without playing another game, they’ll have been robbed of a chance to add to their legacies.