The Pro Bowl Matters
‘It doesn’t matter, it’s only the Pro Bowl.’ I’m getting pretty tired of hearing that line at this time of year.
The game itself may have descended into a farce, but that is hardly surprising when you think about it. The NFL is a game of controlled violence, of potential injury on every snap, and while that’s a risk players are willing to take for their shot at a Super Bowl ring and a big-time payday, they are understandably less keen on taking that risk in an exhibition game at the end of the season.
One unfortunate play can cost a player his season before it has even begun. With NFL contracts not guaranteed the way they are in other sports, players don’t want to go all out in the Pro-Bowl and blow their shot at really big money or at a ring the next season just to put on a better show for fans in their All-Star game. I get that, and to be honest I can’t really hold too much of a grudge over the attitude.
But the Pro Bowl selections are about far more than that in the big picture.
For a start it’s about dollars. Some players have Pro Bowl bonuses written into their contracts. They want performance-based incentives, and one of the few tangible accomplishments for some positions that are outside of the subjectivity of their own coaches is a selection to the All-Star teams named at the end of the season.
Vikings center John Sullivan reportedly missed out on a cool $500k by getting snubbed for the Pro Bowl — despite being the best center in football this season. Now, you might say that it’s foolish to have money like that resting on a selection process as flawed as the Pro Bowl’s is, and that’s certainly true, but that’s hardly the point, right?
Should we not instead be focusing on the system that’s screwed a deserving player out of $500k in pay? Sullivan could have negotiated his bonus to be tied to something else, but centers surrender so little pressure that sacks wouldn’t really be practical, and pressure as a whole would likely be relying on the Vikings’ coaching staff to produce the numbers, obviously causing an obvious conflict in interest for the team.
Until the stage where agents are negotiating into their player’s contracts bonuses based on PFF stats, they’re going to continue to lean on the Pro Bowl as a tangible achievement, and those guys are simply rolling the dice right now. An All-Pro caliber season can’t guarantee you a Pro Bowl spot if you’re playing at the wrong position that people can’t be trusted to fairly evaluate.
The second reason it matters (and one that doesn’t rely on you having sympathy for millionaires missing out on a few more dollars) is that Pro Bowl appearances define legacies.
When a guy gets put up for the Hall of Fame one of the first things you’ll hear about him is how many times he went to the Pro Bowl and how many consecutive years he was in Hawaii. Given the ridiculous state of the votes recently it makes you wonder how many players are in Canton right now based on a series of Pro Bowls they may not have earned.
Maurkice Pouncey right now is about 25-35 percent of the way to a Hall of Fame career despite barely rising above average in his NFL career. This was his best season in the NFL and he is our eighth-ranked center in the AFC alone, yet he has been to the Pro Bowl every season of his career. For some reason there was an agreement when he was drafted that he would be a faultless player who would go to Canton on the back of an annual Pro Bowl and All-Pro nomination.
If offensive line evaluation is bad enough that the only people questioning the Pouncey accolades are the people watching and grading all offensive linemen on every play, it makes you wonder about every great lineman we take for granted as a stud.
My point is not to get bogged down in another Pouncey debate, it is simply to point out that Pro Bowl picks that seem overtly farcical at the time don’t get remembered that way, they just go down as another achievement. While we might all agree that Eric Berry has no more business at the Pro Bowl this season than you or I, in 10 years time nobody will remember that, they’ll just see it as an All-Star selection.
As long as we just accept a broken process, we’re in danger of completely undermining how we remember players and how they get recognized at the end of their careers.
Lastly, the Pro Bowl is simply about fairness and recognizing the best players of the season. Does that matter? Maybe not in the great scheme of things, but neither do lots of other little injustices, it doesn’t mean we should just accept them and ignore the inherent unfairness of it all.
Great players are having great seasons and being ignored for the Pro Bowl while players that are nothing more than rank average in any given season are taking a free trip to Hawaii because people have heard their names before, and others are simply too lazy to do the required groundwork to know what they are talking about.
Maybe you are comfortable with that unfairness, but I’m not, and that’s why the argument that ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s only the Pro Bowl’ simply won’t wash with me or with PFF around this time of year, so you’ll have to simply bear with us.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam