Bruce Matthews. Mike Munchak. Randall McDaniel. And now Walter Jones.
When you’re talking Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive linemen, Warren Moon is a good place to start the conversation because of those four very-large reasons.
During his own 17-season Hall of Fame career in the NFL, Moon played with Matthews and Munchak while with the Houston Oilers (1984-93), McDaniel while with the Minnesota Vikings (1994-96) and Jones for two seasons while with the Seahawks (1997-98).
Neither development surprises Moon, who was elected to the Hall in 2006 – the day before the Seahawks lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super XL.
“There’s no question at all that Walter belongs in the Hall of Fame,” said Moon, who like Jones was elected in his first year of eligibility. “And being a first-ballot Hall of Famer definitely is deserved.”
With Jones, there was no defining moment that can be attached to igniting his ascend as a Hall of Fame-worthy blocker. That’s because the left tackle from Aliceville (Ala.) High School, Holmes Community College in Mississippi and Florida State had “it” when he arrived at training camp in 1997, after being the sixth pick overall in the NFL Draft.
“He just came in with it,” Moon said. “Walter was just so physically gifted.”
Still, there were those moments of wonder about whether Jones had the determined drive it takes to elevate even his ample game to the ultimate level – a Hall of Fame level.
“Walter was really quiet,” Moon said. “So it was really hard to judge if he had that tenacity you’re looking for in an offensive lineman, because a lot of offensive linemen are kind of docile. But at some point they show that nastiness, and that’s what we kept looking for out of Walter.
“You finally saw that in practice, you really saw it in certain games. He would just dominate people. You just knew you didn’t have to worry about that side of the line.”
The careers of Moon and Jones were heading in opposite directions during their brief time together with the Seahawks. Jones was a rookie and second-year player in 1997 and 1998, when he was a year away from the first of his club-record nine Pro Bowl berths and three years from the first of his six All-Pro selections. Moon already had fashioned his Hall of Fame credentials by the time he signed with the Seahawks as a 40-year-old QB. But in 1997, when he turned 41 at midseason, Moon passed for 3,678 yards and 25 touchdowns.
“I didn’t play with Walter that long, but I continued to watch his career just continue to grow and grow and grow,” said Moon, who has been the analyst for radio broadcasts of Seahawks games the past 10 seasons. “He became one of the best offensive linemen to ever play that position.”
Again, that’s saying a lot because of the former player it’s coming from – and because of the linemen Moon played with at other junctures of his career. While with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1999 and 2000, Moon was teammates with Will Shields, who was a finalist for the Hall of Fame this year.
Think about that for a moment. Jones at left tackle. McDaniel at left guard. Munchak at center. Shields at right guard. Matthews at right tackle.
“That’s one of the reasons I could play as long as I did,” Moon said with a laugh. “You’ve got to have guys like that around you to keep you upright and to keep you on the field and healthy.”
But even in that company, Jones stands out.
“Usually you find offensive linemen and either they’re great at coming off the football in run blocking or he has great feet and he’s great in pass protection,” Moon said. “Walter had that rare ability to be just a tenacious run blocker, drive blocker; but also had those nimble, quick feet in pass protection.
“You just didn’t see that combination very much from any of the great tackles that have played the game.”