DeMarcus Ware has case as first-ballot Hall of Famer

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Broncos outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware announced his retirement Monday after 12 NFL seasons, nine Pro Bowl selections and 138.5 sacks.

Ware posted on Twitter that he had "tempting" offers to continue playing, but "long-term health and quality of life outweigh the spark and passion to play that I once had."

Ware quoted the same Scripture verse -- "I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7) -- that Peyton Manning referenced when he announced his retirement last year.

Manning is a lock for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2021. And after a mandatory waiting period of five years, Ware will be eligible for the Hall’s Class of 2022.

Beyond a franchise quarterback with multiple Super Bowl wins, there are few first-ballot locks for a gold jacket. In the end, Hall of Famers are Hall of Famers once they receive the honor, one no more worthy than the other. As Hall of Famer Deacon Jones has told many enshrinees, "This is the only team you can’t be cut from."

That said, the Hall's board of selectors have begun to honor edge rushers. Jason Taylor of the Class of 2017 was selected in his first year of eligibility.

Ware is eighth all time in sacks and ends his career just one behind Taylor on the career list, and three behind Hall of Famer Michael Strahan, who is No. 6 all time with 141.5 sacks.

In fact, the six retired players who are in front of Ware on the all-time sacks list are Hall of Famers -- Bruce Smith, Reggie White, Kevin Greene, Chris Doleman, Strahan and Taylor. Julius Peppers, at No. 5 all time with 143.5 sacks, is the only active player with more career sacks than Ware.

Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said of Ware: "I’ve coached guys who are in the Hall of Fame, been around guys who are in the Hall of Fame, and DeMarcus is absolutely a Hall of Famer just as soon as he can go in. Look at what he’s done, how he’s done it, how he’s carried himself, worked at his craft. Just how he’s performed. I’m a better coach just for having been around him."

Smith, White, Doleman and Taylor were voted for enshrinement in their first year of eligibility, and all since 2006. But even the most proficient of the non-quarterbacks have to wait at times.

Strahan was a two-time finalist before he was selected. Greene -- third all time in sacks with 160 -- was a five-time finalist before he was selected. Derrick Thomas was a five-time finalist; Charles Haley was a six-time finalist; and Richard Dent was a seven-time finalist.

But as the league has become more and more pass-oriented, the most prominent edge rushers have made their way into Canton a little more quickly, with at least one prominent sack artist in each of the last four classes.

Strahan was in the Class of 2014, Haley in the Class of ’15, Green in the Class of ’16 and Taylor this year.

Ware had offseason back surgery and as recently as Super Bowl week said he felt like a "new man" and "I definitely want to play, I’ve got a lot of passion."

He was asked then about his standing on the league’s all-time list and his ability to move up several spots with a good season, but said at the time he wanted another chance at a Super Bowl ring. Ware was a captain when the Broncos won Super Bowl 50.

"People say if you get four sacks you pass this guy, or if you get five sacks you pass that guy -- four-this, five-that," Ware told ESPN in Houston. "But my biggest thing is always I want a ring while I'm sacking the heck out of the quarterback."

Ware, who will turn 35 on July 31, has rehabbed at the Broncos’ complex this offseason and became an unrestricted free agent on Thursday. Ware missed 11 games combined over the last two seasons and said at the Super Bowl that he had to factor in "how I feel after football."

Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller endorsed Ware’s Canton candidacy.

"DeMarcus is going in the Hall of Fame right after he’s done playing," Miller said. "Whatever the wait is, when he’s done, he’s going in. There’s not an argument."