Frankly, I never thought I’d be writing the above title, but now I feel I have no choice. As much as I love the NFL, it’s simply time to do away with the NFL Pro Bowl — at least in its current form.
As the salaries in the NFL have grown more and more, the game has become more and more of a joke. In the mid-to-late 1980s I used to love the effort those selected put into the game, and it was fun to see your favorite team’s player(s) performing against the other greats of the league. But it’s now 2016 and the game is essentially worthless and most of the time you’re simply watching to make sure your team’s quarterback isn’t hit low and lost for next year.
In terms of what else is wrong with the game, well first there’s the fact that by attempting to generate more viewers, the NFL moved the game to the weekend before the Super Bowl. On paper that’s a great move, as it puts the game on a brighter stage than one that exists after the season officially ends. But it also means each Super Bowl team is not represented at the game, and that’s a problem because — spoiler alert — Super Bowl teams often have Pro Bowl caliber players. This year alone there are 14 players named to the Pro Bowl that won’t be participating due to the fact that their team is in the Super Bowl. While it’s true that in the past these players would have likely skipped the game as well the week after the Super Bowl, at least a handful may have had a reason to show up.
In addition, aside from missing 14 of the NFL’s best players, the aforementioned rising NFL salaries are also keeping stars away. After all, why would someone in line for tens of millions of dollars risk getting their knee shredded and ending their career? Believe me, a trip to Hawaii isn’t enticing enough to put someone’s body on the line for such a trip, especially when one’s contract can pay for that trip thousands of times over on a player’s own schedule. So I hope if you’re tuning into the Pro Bowl next week that you’re really excited to see Tyrod Taylor throwing passes to fullback Patrick Dimarco, because that’s what it has come down to at this point. Taylor is, at best, the 13th quarterback invited for the game. Five of the six selections won’t be playing in the game, and at a minimum Drew Brees and Philip Rivers also turned down the chance to play. Any game that has the 13th ranked quarterback — in a league that sometimes struggles to produce 10 consistent passers — is a joke.
Of course then there’s the fact that Pro Bowl voting itself is also a joke. I’ve discussed that at length before, and you can read my thoughts here about why the integrity of the game is terrible, but the short story is that anytime a fan gets unlimited voting the entire “award” should be discounted. Yes, yes, I know players and coaches also count towards an equal percentage of the vote, but if you think wide receiver #2 from a 3-13 team really gives a damn about which special teams gunner goes to the game, then you’re sadly mistaken. At best, coaches and players vote for their friends or those players with name recognition that have earned an invite for the totality of the career.
Lastly, if the NFL is so damn concerned with the health of it’s players, then it wouldn’t be subjecting its supposed biggest stars to another week of hits. Yes, the hits in the Pro Bowl often pale in comparison to a real game (but not always as the late Sean Taylor reminded us), but that’s yet another reason why the game shouldn’t exist then.
How the NFL should handle this situation is up for debate. The NFL could get rid of the Pro Bowl altogether, but that seems unlikely in the NFL’s quest for world domination and additional TV revenue. If it were up to me I’d favor a Pro Bowl selection with a skills component instead (and no, I don’t mean beach flag football Robert Edwards). Have quarterbacks throw balls at moving targets or launch them as fair as they can, have receivers catch one-handed passes and running backs do an agility course. Have lineman drive sleds or bench 225 pounds and kickers attempt field goals from crazy angles or distances. The injury risk is virtually nil, and it can still be exciting.
Want to make it truly exciting though? Well how about the NFL put some decent pay checks up for grabs also. Put up $100K for each position winner, $50K for second, and so on. What, you’re telling me the NFL doesn’t have $1M they could put up and not bat an eye? If that doesn’t entice players to participate, then double or triple it. NFL players make plenty of money, but the chance to stroke their own egos in an individual competition while also collecting a cool chunk of change? Well that will be hard to pass up for any player, from ones making $20M to those making the minimum salary. Fans certainly wouldn’t be opposed to seeing guys actually trying to win at something either, rather than lateraling the ball around like it’s a hot potato in a game where no one cares.
And if that doesn’t work? Then pull the plug once and for all, and save us from the misery of watching bridesmaids walk down the aisle instead of the real brides. That is unless Tyrod Taylor is truly going to make you watch. Me personally? No thank you.