37 Players Drop Out of the Pro Bowl, Can the NFL Fix This Game?

Thomas Davis
The Associated Press

The NFL Pro Bowl appropriately plays in Orlando this year. It has turned into a Mickey Mouse game.

The Pro Bowl, usually played in Hawaii, takes place on Sunday at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl at 8 p.m. Eastern.

It’s very hard to present a quality all-star game in a sport as violent as football, especially in the postseason, even with prize money ($61,000 for the winning team and $30,000 for the losers).

After playing five months of tackle football, many players are physically and emotionally spent, so the last thing many want to do is play in a frivolous game.

So it should come as no surprise that 37 players turned down invitations to play this year.

Perhaps one reason the rejections stack so high this season is the cautionary tale of Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, who suffered a serious ankle injury in last year’s game.

Eifert needed surgery, and missed the first six games of the 2016 season. This injury, to one of their best players, certainly contributed to the Bengals’ lousy record. Eifert has made it clear he’ll never play in the Pro Bowl again.

“It’s just not worth it,” Eifert said. “I’d like to make it, but I’m not going to go if I got asked.”

Do you blame him? Who wants to spend nine months rehabbing an injury from a meaningless game?

Also, it might have hurt Eifert’s chances of landing a lucrative contract extension in 2017. The Bengals picked up a fifth-year option on his rookie deal, instead of giving him a long-term big-money deal, perhaps due to the injury.

“That’s obviously going to be in the back of people’s minds, guys that are up for new deals are probably worried about [Pro Bowl injuries] a lot more than guys who are under contracts,” Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap told ESPN.

Aside from injury concerns, there is another reason some guys declined invites this year; the game was moved from the tropical paradise of Hawaii to Orlando.

A free trip to Hawaii was more of an incentive for players to suck-it-up and play one more football game when perhaps their bodies were telling them “no.”

Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay said it’s “pointless” to play in the Pro Bowl if it’s not in Hawaii.

The quality of the play has long been an issue with many fans. NFL is “tackle football,” but the Pro Bowl is often more like “touch football,” with some of the participants eschewing the tackling part of the sport, perhaps, once again, to avoid injury.

The NFL has tried to improve the quality of play with some rule tweaks over the years, but nothing seems to work. It’s like putting lipstick on a pig.

But the Pro Bowl isn’t going away. Why? Because it gets decent TV ratings and it makes money through things like ticket and merchandise sales, TV rights fees, and cities bidding for the event.

The NFL isn’t stupid. They aren’t going to pull the plug on a cash cow.

But just because it makes money, doesn’t make it a good product.