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The NFL has announced the eight finalists — four from each conference — for the 2016 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award. The finalists are linebacker Brian Cushing (Houston), running back Frank Gore (Indianapolis), linebacker DeMarcus Ware (Denver) and guard/tackle Marshal Yanda (Baltimore) in the AFC, and tight end Greg Olsen (Carolina), linebacker Julius Peppers (Green Bay), running back Darren Sproles (Philadelphia) and tackle Joe Staley (San Francisco) in the NFC. The finalists have a combined 38 Pro Bowl selections.
Each NFL team nominated one player for the award, which recognizes those who best demonstrate the qualities of on-field sportsmanship, including fair play, respect for the game and opponents, and integrity in competition. The award was created in 2014 in honor of the late founding owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pro Football Hall of Famer Art Rooney, Sr.
A panel of former players from the NFL Legends Community — Warrick Dunn, Curtis Martin, Karl Mecklenburg and Leonard Wheeler — selected the eight finalists from the 32 nominees.
The eight finalists will be listed on the Pro Bowl ballot under the NFL Sportsmanship Award category when players vote on Friday, Dec. 16. From the eight finalists, each team’s players will submit a consensus vote of their choice for the winner. As with Pro Bowl voting, a team cannot vote for its own player.
Charles Woodson of the Oakland Raiders was selected by his peers in 2015, and Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals won the inaugural award in 2014.
The player’s selection will be announced during the NFL Honors show on Saturday, Feb. 4 on FOX — the night before Super Bowl LI — and will receive a $25,000 donation from the NFL Foundation to a charity of his choice. He will also receive a trophy that represents the important role that sportsmanship plays in the game and how NFL players that demonstrate integrity and honor on the field serve as role models for players at all levels.
The 2016 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award finalists:
LB Brian Cushing, Houston Texans. An eight-year veteran, Cushing has led the Texans in tackles three times during his career (2009, 2011, 2015), earned All-Pro accolades following the 2009 and 2011 seasons and was a 2010 Pro Bowl selection. Cushing — the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2009 after posting 133 tackles and four sacks — was selected by Houston in the first round (15th overall) of the 2009 NFL Draft. He is the Texans’ franchise leader with 639 career tackles.
RB Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts. Gore, a 12-year veteran, ranks eighth in NFL history with 12,830 rushing yards and is one of only five players in league history with at least 12,500 rushing yards and 400 receptions in his career. Gore joined the Colts prior to the 2015 season after 10 years with the San Francisco 49ers, where he rushed for a franchise-record 11,073 yards and 64 touchdowns. A five-time Pro Bowler and 2006 AP All-Pro selection, Gore was a third-round draft choice of San Francisco in 2005.
TE Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers. A first-round selection (31st overall) of the Chicago Bears in the 2007 NFL Draft, Olsen was traded to Carolina prior to the 2011 season and is the Panthers’ all-time leader in receptions (413) and receiving yards (5,218) among tight ends. In 2015, Olsen totaled 1,104 receiving yards — the most by a tight end in franchise history — and earned his second Pro Bowl trip while helping the Panthers to a 15-1 record and an appearance in Super Bowl 50.
LB Julius Peppers, Green Bay Packers. A nine-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team AP All-Pro selection, Peppers is the only player in NFL history with 100 sacks (142.5) and 10 interceptions (11). The second overall selection by the Carolina Panthers in the 2002 NFL Draft, Peppers has appeared in 231 games with 224 starts for Green Bay (2014-16), Chicago (2010-13) and Carolina (2002-09) during his 15-year career and ranks fifth since 1982 with 142.5 career sacks.
RB Darren Sproles, Philadelphia Eagles. Originally a fourth-round pick of the San Diego Chargers in 2005, Sproles is the only player in NFL history to record at least 30 receiving touchdowns (30), 20 rushing touchdowns (21), a punt-return touchdown (seven) and a kickoff-return touchdown (two) in his career. A two-time Pro Bowler and 2014 All-Pro, Sproles leads all NFL running backs with 4,546 receiving yards and 30 touchdown catches since 2007. He has appeared in 166 career games for the Eagles (2013-16), New Orleans Saints (2011-13) and Chargers (2005-10).
T Joe Staley, San Francisco 49ers. Staley, a 10-year veteran and five-time Pro Bowler, was selected by the 49ers in the first round (28th overall) of the 2007 NFL Draft. Staley has started 142 games, becoming the 10th offensive lineman in franchise history to appear in at least 140 games. Staley was one of the 2015 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award finalists.
LB DeMarcus Ware, Denver Broncos. Ware, a 12-year veteran, ranks second among active players and is eighth since 1982 with 138.5 career sacks. A nine-time Pro Bowler and seven-time All-Pro, Ware joined the Broncos as a free agent before the 2014 season after spending the first nine years of his career with the Dallas Cowboys, where he recorded a franchise-record 117 sacks. Ware has been a team captain in each of his three seasons in Denver and has helped guide a Broncos’ defensive unit that leads the NFL with 131 sacks since 2014. He was selected by the Cowboys in the first round (11th overall) of the 2005 NFL Draft.
G/T Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens. Originally selected by the Ravens in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft, Yanda has earned five consecutive Pro Bowl berths (2012-16) and has been an AP All-Pro in four of the past five seasons (2011-12, 2014-15). Yanda has appeared in 140 games with 129 starts since 2007, starting games at right guard (94 starts), right tackle (29), left guard (four), left tackle (one) and tight end (one) over his 10-year career.