10 Veteran NFL Players Pushing for the Hall of Fame

Bryn Swartz@eaglescentralSenior Writer IIIJuly 20, 2014

10 Veteran NFL Players Pushing for the Hall of Fame

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    There are about a dozen players in the National Football League who could retire now and earn enshrinement to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility. 

    Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees are three of the greatest quarterbacks in league history. Combined, they've thrown for more than 1,000 career touchdown passes, won seven Most Valuable Player awards and led their respective teams to five Super Bowl titles. Anything they do in the next few years will only add to their already incredible legacies. 

    Other players around the NFL who are a lock to reach the Hall of Fame include Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson and Champ Bailey. 

    But a lot of veterans nearing the end of their careers are making a final push for the Hall of Fame. For some, it's a matter of reaching a specific milestone, like 1,000 career catches or 150 sacks. For others, it's just a matter of turning in a few more seasons at their typically productive level.

    The following slides will highlight, in order by position, ten different active players who are making a late-career push to earn a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Philip Rivers, Quarterback, San Diego Chargers

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    Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

    There are four quarterbacks in the NFL who are head and shoulders above the rest of their competition: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. All four are among the best in NFL history in terms of statistics and leading their teams to points and wins. 

    Philip Rivers is probably the best of the rest. Even though he's never led the San Diego Chargers to a Super Bowl appearance, he's among the league leaders each year in some of the league's most important passing statistics, notably completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown-to-interception ratio and passer rating. 

    He's played every game for eight straight years, and he enjoyed a career resurgence under new head coach Mike McCoy in 2013. Just 32 years old, Rivers should be able to play five more seasons in the NFL. Add 20,000 passing yards and 150 touchdowns to his already-impressive numbers, and he'd finish with more than 50,000 yards and 370 touchdowns. That's Hall of Fame worthy, ring or no ring.

Ben Roethlisberger, Quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Blessed with a dominant defense throughout almost all of his 10-year NFL career, Ben Roethlisberger has led the Pittsburgh Steelers to three Super Bowl appearances, winning twice. He's regarded as one of the top clutch quarterbacks in NFL history, engineering 32 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter. His touchdown to Santonio Holmes in the final minute of Super Bowl XLIII is one of the most famous plays in league history.

    Roethlisberger has never dominated statistically like some of his peers, but he's still posted a very impressive 92.6 career passer rating, ninth all time among quarterbacks. 

    His clutch performances, including his Super Bowl titles, probably wouldn't be enough to earn him a spot in the Hall of Fame, but add in his underrated passing numbers and you have a quarterback who deserves to be remembered among the game's best. 

    Roethlisberger may not be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, depending on the rest of his competition when he finally retires, but he should be able to do enough over the next four or five seasons to turn his Hall of Fame chances from a "probably" to a "definitely."

Eli Manning, Quarterback, New York Giants

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Statistically, you really couldn't have a less-impressive quarterback than Eli Manning. He's led the National Football League in interceptions three times. His career completion percentage (58.5 percent) and passer rating (81.2) are the definition of mediocre. He's never collected a single MVP vote. Quite simply, his career numbers would fit in perfectly with a Hall of Fame quarterback from the 1970s but not in the modern era. 

    His saving grace, however, is his two Super Bowl rings. During the 2007 and 2011 postseason, Eli Manning led the Giants to eight victories, including four in the final minute. His dramatic 32-yard completion to David Tyree in the final minute of Super Bowl XLII is among the most famous plays in NFL history.

    Whether Eli Manning reaches the Hall of Fame won't really depend upon anything he does statistically. He'll probably finish with 50,000 passing yards and 300 touchdowns but in this generation, those numbers aren't automatic qualifiers for the Hall of Fame. It's Manning's two Super Bowl MVP trophies that could one day earn him a spot among the game's all-time quarterbacks. And if he can manage to win a third, his Hall of Fame chances are a guarantee. 

Brandon Marshall, Wide Receiver, Chicago Bears

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Wide receiver is one of the strongest positions in the NFL right now, which explains how a player like Brandon Marshall can consistently catch 100 passes per season and still fly under the radar. 

    The biggest playmaker on one of the top offenses in the league, Marshall just turned 30 years old this offseason. He's endured some criticism for playing on three different teams but he's excelled whether he's catching passes from Jay Cutler, Matt Moore or Josh McCown. 

    Throw in his blocking, which is probably better than any receiver in the sport, and you have a player who will be one of many talented receivers fighting for a spot in the Hall of Fame in a decade or so. 

Larry Fitzgerald, Wide Receiver, Arizona Cardinals

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Two years ago, Larry Fitzgerald's Hall of Fame chances appeared to be an absolute lock. Now, I'm not completely convinced he'll one day end up in Canton among the game's all-time greats. 

    Fitzgerald, 30, has declined significantly over the past two seasons. He hasn't reached 1,000 yards since 2011. You can throw away his 2012 season, when he caught passes from the likes of Max Hall and Ryan Lindley, but there are no excuses for not reaching that 1,000-yard milestone under veteran Carson Palmer in 2013.

    Fitzgerald has probably been surpassed by Michael Floyd as the best receiver on the Cardinals. His Hall of Fame chances will come down to how much longer he can still produce. If he can revive his career and turn in four or five more great seasons, he'll be a no-brainer first-ballot Hall of Famer.

    But if he continues to record just 800 or 900 receiving yards per season for the next few years, the voters will have an interesting decision. Do they focus solely on his incredible dominance from 2005 to 2011, which includes six Pro Bowl berths and a historic 2008 postseason? Or do they look at his inability to play at a high level into his 30s?

    This could cause players like Brandon Marshall, Andre Johnson and even Wes Welker to vault past Fitzgerald in the Hall of Fame voting. 

Andre Johnson, Wide Receiver, Houston Texans

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    There are two big things stopping Andre Johnson from an easy induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Although it's not his fault, he's in danger of ending his career without a single memorable postseason moment (unless he finishes his career on a contending team). And second, he's one of the worst in the league at scoring touchdowns.

    In 11 seasons, Johnson has never scored double-digit touchdowns. He's averaged a touchdown every 15.2 receptions throughout his career. By comparison, Larry Fitzgerald has scored a touchdown every 9.72 receptions. Brandon Marshall scores every 12.57 receptions. Calvin Johnson finds the end zone every 8.67 catches. 

    At 6'3'' and 219 pounds, Johnson has the size and strength to be a dangerous weapon in the red zone. For whatever reason, the touchdowns just haven't happened. 

    I still think Johnson makes the Hall, though. He's still playing at an extremely high level at age 33, and he ranks 14th all time in receptions and 17th in receiving yards. Voters will remember him as the best player in Houston Texans history, regardless of what happens this summer. 

Antonio Gates, Tight End, San Diego Chargers

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    When all is said and done, Antonio Gates is going to have pretty close to a 50-50 chance for the Hall of Fame.

    One of the best tight ends in the National Football League over the last decade, Gates has earned eight trips to the Pro Bowl and three All-Pro selections. He's scored double-digit touchdowns in three seasons, and he's still a highly productive player at age 33.

    But Gates has been overshadowed by Tony Gonzalez during the beginning of his career and Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham during the last few seasons. He's always been a top-five tight end but never the game's best tight end. 

    Whether or not he makes the Hall of Fame will likely depend on whether he can produce at a high level for about two more seasons. He's 807 yards away from 10,000, a figure that has been topped by just two tight ends throughout NFL history: Tony Gonzalez (15,127) and Shannon Sharpe (10,060). (It's worth mentioning that Jason Witten is at 9,799 yards.)

Jared Allen, Defensive End, Chicago Bears

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    Matt Marton/Associated Press

    For whatever reason, Jared Allen has always been overshadowed when it comes to the game's elite pass-rushers. Perhaps playing for consistent losing teams (Kansas City and Minnesota) has stopped him from achieving the stardom that should come with one of the league's best sack artists. 

    But when it's all said and done, Allen may not just be a player who sneaks into the Hall of Fame. He could make it on the first ballot.

    Twice Allen has led the NFL in sacks, including 22 in 2011, a figure topped just once in pro football history since the NFL officially began recording sacks in 1982. (Michael Strahan recorded 22.5 sacks in 2001). His 128.5 career sacks amount to an average of almost 13 per season.

    Now playing for his third professional franchise, Allen will look to prove that he's not on the decline, even as he plays through a season at the age of the 32. If he can average 11 sacks per season through 2016, he'll move into third all time in that category.

    Such an accomplishment will guarantee him a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Julius Peppers, Outside Linebacker, Green Bay Packers

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    Expectations were through the roof for Julius Peppers when the Carolina Panthers drafted him second overall in the 2003 draft. The modern day version of Too Tall Jones, Peppers has been a beast at defensive end for the last decade.

    He can do it all. He has 119 sacks in 12 years. He's knocked down 64 passes and forced 40 fumbles. He's collected 14 fumble recoveries, nine interceptions and even scored four touchdowns. 

    Released by the Chicago Bears this offseason, Peppers will look to revive his career while playing a new position for the Green Bay Packers. He'll be an outside linebacker in the Packers' 3-4 defense, a pass-rusher whose main responsibility will still be to rush the quarterback.

    Although Peppers has earned eight Pro Bowl selections, he's not a lock for the Hall of Fame. Voters may focus on his slightly lower sack totals than his contemporaries, even though Peppers has been arguably the most athletic defensive end of his generation. 

DeMarcus Ware, Outside Linebacker, Denver Broncos

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    JACK DEMPSEY/Associated Press

    Although he's only played nine seasons in the National Football League, Demarcus Ware's numbers rank among the best pass-rushers in the game's history. He's averaged 13 sacks per season, including 20 in 2008 and 19.5 in 2011. He also didn't miss a single game for the first eight years of his career.

    But in 2013, Ware struggled through a career-worst season, collecting just six sacks and no forced fumbles in 13 games. Released by Dallas after the season for salary-cap reasons, Ware signed with the defending AFC champion Denver Broncos, where he will attempt to revive his career.

    Right now, what the seven-time Pro Bowler has done isn't quite enough for the Hall of Fame. But if he truly is worthy of a spot among the game's elite, he'll continue dominating for at least two more seasons.