Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald won the first Rooney award last year. The award was created in honor of the late founding owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
The winner will be determined by a vote of current NFL players after a panel of former players will select eight finalists, four from each conference. That panel is comprised of Hall of Famer Curtis Martin, Warrick Dunn, Karl Mecklenburg and Leonard Wheeler.
Players will vote on Dec. 18, with each of the 32 teams submitting a consensus vote as its choice for the winner. But a team can't vote for a teammate.
"It's pretty awesome to be recognized," said defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, the Dolphins' nominee. "Sportsmanship is very important. It's a tribute to the coaches I had growing up, the way I was raised."
The award will be presented during the "NFL Honors" show when The Associated Press announces the individual award winners for the 2015 season. That program takes place Feb. 6, the night before the Super Bowl.
The winner will receive a $25,000 donation from the NFL Foundation to a charity of his choice.
Raiders safety Woodson is in his 18th pro season, Chargers quarterback Rivers is in his 12th, and Lions receiver Johnson in his ninth.
Other long-time NFL players nominated include Colts QB Matt Hasselbeck (17th season), Packers LB Julius Peppers (14th), Browns QB Josh McCown (13th), Saints TE Benjamin Watson (12th), Chiefs LB Derrick Johnson (11th), Vikings LB Chad Greenway (10th), Eagles LB DeMeco Ryans (10th), Steelers CB William Gay (ninth) and 49ers T Joe Staley (ninth).
Mitchell admitted it's difficult to display sportsmanship while working in the trenches.
"You get tested every single play," he said. "People are trying to do all kinds of extra stuff. You've got to keep your cool because you don't want to penalize your team. It's tough to play a clean game, but it's awesome to be recognized."
Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee called the nomination "a great honor."
"Playing football the right way and being out there, it's a blessing to play in the NFL," Lee said. It's a blessing to play for the Cowboys and trying to do things the right way and play the right way in the field. Extremely important."
Lee is from Pittsburgh, so the award has extra meaning for him.
"The Rooneys are great, but I play for the Cowboys," he said with a laugh. "No, the Rooneys, obviously growing up in Pittsburgh, they're a legendary family. The Steelers are an unbelievable organization -- the way the Rooneys do things. They have a ton of class. Growing up in Pittsburgh, that was a family that I think everybody looked up to."
Remaining nominees are:
Cardinals DT Calais Campbell, Falcons CB Desmond Trufant, Ravens RB Justin Forsett, Bills QB Tyrod Taylor, Panthers LB Luke Kuechly, Bears RB Matt Forte, Bengals LB Vinny Rey, Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas, Texans T Duane Brown, Jaguars DT Sen'Derrick Marks, Patriots T Nate Solder, Giants RB Rashad Jennings, Jets LB David Harris, Seahawks WR Jermaine Kearse, Rams DT Aaron Donald, Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy, Titans CB Jason McCourty, and Redskins RB Alfred Morris.
AP Sports Writers Steven Wine and Schuyler Dixon contributed to this story.
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