GREEN BAY - A trio of safeties were among 15 modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2019, but former Green Bay Packers safety LeRoy Butler was not one of them.
Butler, the first defensive back in NFL history with 20 career interceptions and sacks, was among 25 semifinalists for the second straight year. At a position notoriously lacking representation in Canton, Butler appears to have fallen behind John Lynch and Steve Atwater, both of whom were named finalists. Ed Reed, the safety most likely to be enshrined, also was a finalist.
Butler's numbers compare favorably to Lynch's and Atwater's. He finished with 38 interceptions and 20.5 sacks in 12 seasons, production that would have been even greater had his career not ended at age 33 because of a fractured shoulder. Lynch had 26 interceptions and 13 sacks in his 15 seasons split between Tampa Bay and Denver. Atwater had 24 interceptions and five sacks in his 11 seasons played mostly in Denver.
"(Butler) could match up one-on-one and be down in the box. Which was rare," longtime coach Brian Billick told PackersNews last winter.
Billick devised game plans against Butler and the Packers defense as Minnesota's offensive coordinator and later coached Reed in Baltimore.
"I mean, you usually had one or the other," Billick said of safeties in general. "The guy (who didn't drop) down in the box, he could cover your tight end, but he was useless in the running game. Or you had a guy who was really good at dropping down in the box and stopping the run, but he wasn't going to hold up one-on-one with a guy in the slot. LeRoy was one of the guys who could do it all.
"Being an offensive coordinator, this was something new — 'God, you mean I have to account for a safety now?' — in terms of pass rush, the eight-man box and running. So that was one of the adjustments we had to make back then."
Of the three, Lynch has the edge with nine Pro Bowls. Butler's four Pro Bowl appearances also trail Atwater's eight.
But Butler was a four-time, first-team All-Pro, including three straight years from 1996-98. Lynch and Atwater were selected first-team All-Pros twice apiece.
Clay Matthews Jr., the father of Packers linebacker Clay Matthews III, also failed to make the cut to 15. Matthews Jr. was a linebacker for 19 seasons, most of them in Cleveland.