The Pro Bowl Matters

The game itself may have descended into a farce, but Pro Bowl selections are about far more in the big picture.

| 5 years ago

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

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • Childplease


    • Reu Scherf

      Pouncey fan?

    • Nwordplease

      Butthurt Steelers fan?

  • Izach

    while i agree the probowl is a joke, your bashing of the steelers pouncey is over the top. agree he shouldnt be starting in the probowl for the AFC but when 3 players are chosen i dont see 3 better players than him, maybe statistically there are better Centers, but stats dont tell the whole story and and thats what you guys are at PFF stat guys. you cant say he is the 8th best center in the AFC just based on stats and say he donest deserve it. almost no center does what he does for his team or means as much to the OL as he does. this has been his worst season yet and he was still better than most his brother and maybe mangold on a good day beat him out but thats it

    • Palo20

      Our “stats” are based on watching film. Every play. We don’t “assign” the grades and stats, they’re earned by the player with the same criteria league-wide.

    • Pete Damilatis

      Izach, can you explain what it is that Pouncey “does for his team?” Not being contentious, I’m just trying to understand why he’s so widely-heralded despite looking unspectacular on tape.

    • Bryan Hall

      Izach – we’re performance guys, not just stat guys.  Stats just happen to be the most objective way we can measure performance.  

      I’m curious (as is Pete) if you can quantify what you see from Pouncey that makes you think he’s an elite center.  Yes, this guy is a really good football player. You have to be to start, let alone make it to the NFL.  He does things on the field that look dominant at times.  I can see why you might have the opinion that you do.  

      What you’re apparently missing is really what we do best – the ability to compare his performance to all the other centers in the league.  The things that you see from him aren’t really all that special, and are the same types of things that fans from most other teams likely see from their own centers.  We’re not perfect here and we do make mistakes, but year in and year out we’re just not seeing the same Pouncey that you are.  

      Differing views are important and always welcome, but I suspect that you’re here because you’re looking for something more than the homer coverage you might get elsewhere.  We’re going to tell it to you like it is (or at least how our hours of film study, one-of a kind grading system, and comprehensive statistical database –  tells it.) – so embrace it!  Thanks for reading.

    • SandyGonads

      How have you read this entire article and still not understood what these guys do. If they just told you how many sacks he let up then it would be a much smaller site. He’s 8th in the AFC for a reason, and the Pouncey bashing is well deserved. Especially when he’s being out performed by his own brother. I will not be happy if he’s in the HOF in 15 years. (Unless his play improvesobviously)

  • Kevmac3694

    Want to know why Pouncey is so highly regarded? PFF

    Two words: NBC ; Chris Collinsworth

    Similar to jason peters, nbc does a great job highlighting offensive lineman and with those highlights, it greatly impacts the perception casual fans have of the game, especially offensive lineman in particular. For me personally I dont watch steelers game but from what I remember, Pouncey looked dominant against the Saints his rookie year on Sunday night. He washing saints defenders out of holes, sealed guys off well, and looked very explosive off the ball. Downright dominant, infact. Maybe it was an abberation, but since NBC showed those highlights, combined with the fact that hes a 1st round pick — the perception was officially made.

    Since then, hes had a tremendous reputation since his rookie year. Hes been average for two years now, but nobody will care to notice. Respect, hype, rep, and perception goes a long way in this league when you’re a 1st round pick thats get elevated attention when you do something well. I’m sure you guys at PFF full well understand no casual fan is going to watch film to determine his or her opinion of an NFL offensive lineman.

    • william

       people probably got the pouncey twins confused this year. Clearly Mike Pouncey was much better then his twin on the steelers

  • Walker8084

    What bothers me is when alternates are considered Probowlers.  A few years back David Garrard and Vince Young were in the Pro Bowl while being the 7th and 8th ranked QBs in the AFC simply because every other AFC QB found an excuse not to play.

    • william

       problem is a lot of times the guys that should have been starters, but probably had less exposer then a playoff team, would get in because those players are in the playoffs. Kind of weird how that works out. But it looks like were just getting seconds

  • Klgiuseppe4

    Players that are in the playoffs get more exposure so players like mike pouncey get more exposure and people think they are really good, everyone always hears about ed reed and frank gore, so they think they are the best and deserve it every year, which snubs alfred morris and eric weddle. I had the impression players like ziggy hood and ryan clark where really good when in reality they are both average

    • JJ

      Ziggy Hood is far from average.

    • william

       the problem is the 3 voters of fans, players and coaches, none of us really have the time or talent to evaluate all these positions. Its why its a popularity contest all around.

  • Darnell

    Yep. John Sullivan should be pissed.

    Richard Sherman should file suit to recoup the probowl money given that he was publicly deemed guilty before the appeal process was completed. He had an historically great CB season.

    • william

       kind of odd his teammate and fellow cb got bagged for the same thing and and both are bigger and having career years?

      You should read the facts more. Just because the tech didnt write down the cup was leaking doesnt mean marshal was innocent. You dont come out and point to a drug ,thats gaining notoriety as the defacto “i was prescribed by a doctor” excuse for peds infractions, and then act like the cup the tech transfered his urine was tainted some how. Yes, the same cups used for the tests would somehow be laying around this professional office….dirty?

      Marshal should have taken his penalty like his teammate did instead of waiting for the NFL to bail him out because the seahawks are a hot playoff team