Willie Roaf was such an outstanding left tackle that he reached the Pro Football Hall of Fame in only his second year of eligibility.
But when you see the resume it’s easy to see why: An 11-time Pro Bowler and nine-time All-Pro, Roaf was so accomplished he was an all-decade choice of both the 1990s’ and 2000s’ teams. Nevertheless, he insists he wouldn’t be in Canton were it not for a decision he made following an injury-shortened 2001 season.
He told the New Orleans Saints — the team that made him the eighth pick of the 1993 draft — he would retire if he wasn’t traded or released. So he was traded … to the Kansas City Chiefs … for a conditional draft pick.
“I was going through it a little bit with my personal life,” he said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “I have four children, and I was growing up — trying to become a man. (With) some of the things … I wasn’t doing probably the best I could’ve been doing at the time.
“You know, I really needed that. I needed to go through something, and I needed to mature some. I didn’t want to play in New Orleans anymore. My personal life kind of got dragged into the situation in New Orleans, outside of me getting hurt. So I needed a change, and Kansas City was kind of like when I was coming from Pine Bluff (Ark., his hometown) to Louisiana Tech in football. The Bulldogs and Arkansas State were the only schools that recruited me.”
The Roaf trade was intriguing because the hangup wasn’t finding a suitor. The Chiefs and Denver Broncos both wanted him. No, the biggest hurdle was having Roaf finalize a new deal before a March, 2002, deadline. Had he not reached one, the Saints intended to keep him under terms of a contract he had refused to accept.
“I have a daughter in Denver who’s getting married this summer,” he said, “and I talked about going to play with the Broncos. I went and met with coach (Mike) Shanahan, and they talked about putting together an all-incentive deal. (But) I had to play 14 games for the bonus … to get it in Denver.
“But Kansas City said, ‘If you play every game that you play, you’ll get a piece of your bonus, and you can make this much money with incentives.’ I didn’t realize that, at the time I was going to Kansas City, it was maybe one of the best lines to ever suit up in Kansas City.
“John Tait was struggling some at left tackle, and we moved John to right. Brian Waters was just starting to become himself. He had moved around, and he moved to left guard. Casey (Wiegmann) was at center, and Will Shields — who I was the runner-up to for the Outland Trophy in college — was at right guard and was a Hall of Famer as well.
“Man, we had a real good line (when) I got to Kansas City, and I got to get on that grass and save my body some and put together some real good years.”
That’s an understatement. Roaf was a Pro Bowl choice in each of his four seasons with the Chiefs, retiring after 2005 despite the Chiefs’ pleas to stay. It was the second time he faced a decision to quit, only this time he followed through.
“I wasn’t going to retire (after 2001) because I wanted to come back and prove myself,” he said. “But if you look at my numbers then as far as Hall of Fame … Richmond Webb, who was an outstanding football player, has been to seven Pro Bowls, made an all-decade team and blocked for Dan Marino all those years. And he hasn’t even made the finalist list yet.
“I think he should be coming up for the Hall of Fame. I don’t know if I would still be waiting … I don’t know if I would be in the Hall of Fame today if I didn’t go to Kansas City and finish off my career there.”