The NFL Pro Bowl is a sad state of affairs. The players do not want to risk injury and the league wants better effort and a more engaging product. Those two factors do not mix very well at all. We consistently see poor defense, nonexistent tackling, and nonsense such as Odell Beckham Jr. being played at safety.
The real solution to fixing the Pro Bowl? The first is to stop expecting it to be a competitive game. Football is a contact sport, and unless the game was turned into a flag tournament, there is no way to get players to put full effort in during an exhibition.
The solution is not to amend the game itself, but to add events around the game that make the occasion more attractive.
In the NBA, the various events surrounding All Star Weekend are as interesting (if not more so) than actually watching the East and West compete.. Between the Slam Dunk and Three Point contests, viewers tune in with more anticipation than they do for the actual game.
For the NFL to make the Pro Bowl more entertaining, they might have to rely on events such as these that occur outside of the game.
Many feel that there is nothing that the league could do to spark enough player effort to create a truly competitive game. However, a skills challenge would generate a great deal of fan interest.
Imagine the following events:
This might sound like an iffy concept, but with the implementation of new technology, a QB accuracy challenge could be very interesting.
The goal would not be to simply hit still targets. There could be several moving objects set up with hydraulics and tracks to move up and down the field, as well as left and right.
While we all know accuracy does not translate directly onto the field on Sundays, it would certainly be an interesting feature at a skills challenge. There is almost no risk of injury, and it could be a good way to bring out the competitive spark that we often see in NFL passers.
This could become the NFL’s equivalent of the Slam Dunk Contest, and could potentially be the main event of the Pro Bowl weekend.
With players like Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Dez Bryant, and Julio Jones making one-handed catches a routine Sunday feature, it would be interesting to see what the receivers could do without a defense present.
Practice videos often surface of receivers attempting ridiculous catches without defensive backs serving as an impetus, but with enough creativity this event could become a spectacle that highlights the weekend. Imagine players catching the ball mid-backflip, jumping over objects, and catching blindfolded. The list goes on.
If the NFL ever were to decide to create a week-long spectacle out of the Pro Bowl, the catching competition could become the highlight of the festivities.
This might seem obvious, but there are ways to make this competition more interesting. One would be to organize it by position, and take the top performers from each category into a final round.
However, this event might be the least plausible as players often worry about injuries when sprinting, something we have seen during the Pro Bowl game for years.
Coaches Flag Game (Coached by Players):
This would be one of the more interesting events. It would require inviting more head and assistant coaches to the game, but would surely make for some great television.
If NFL head coaches played in a 7-on-7 flag football game, coached by their players, we would certainly get to witness some ridiculous moments. Just imagine Andy Reid chasing down John Harbaugh and I’m pretty sure you’d sign a petition to make this event happen right now.
This game could also include assistants, but bringing in multiple head coaches to enjoy the week’s festivities could also enhance the experience after a long, tiring season.
Hitting Ability Competition:
This hypothetical showdown could be judged using various sensors and gauges that can measure the velocity or G-Forces that are at play when a player collides with a tackling dummy.
There could be a set point from which the player can begin running, and they have to tackle a dummy equipped with these sensors. The competition would be an interesting mix of speed rushers, and more powerful players, in an effort to see who really delivers the hardest hit in the NFL.
Or, you could just ask Ryan Tannehill because it seems like he has been tackled by every player in the league at one point or another.
This could be one of the more interesting events. Players could group up into teams consisting of a representative from several positions. The contest could follow a format along these guidelines:
A quarterback has to throw three footballs into a basket (some form of net), and then retrieve one of the balls. He follows that up by throwing the retrieved ball to his receiver, who must catch it with one hand. Once the receiver catches it with one hand, he hands it to a running back, who has to sprint (possibly 25-40 yards) to set the ball up for the kicker, who must make a field goal.
Pairing several players from different teams to compete in a full race with multiple steps could be interesting, as athletes’ competitive natures are often sparked by a timed event such as these. I am sure that there are several formats the league could follow, but it would be entertaining to have teams race through this type of competition, whatever the structure may be.
There is no way to make a meaningful Pro Bowl within the game of football. It is a highly physical sport with one of the highest injury rates in professional athletics, so getting players to put their bodies on the line in a meaningless game is nearly impossible. That being said, the best way to make the event itself more interesting is to add this proposed Skills Challenge.
This event would attract more viewers, and could turn the Pro Bowl into a weeklong festivity instead of simply being a series of games and practices. The NFL is all about profiting off of events like this (if it wasn’t making money they would have cancelled it long ago), so why not give viewers more reasons to tune in?
While this Skills Challenge might not come to fruition any time soon, it would undoubtedly be a way for the league to expand their pre-Super Bowl festivities. By adding the series of events ahead of the Pro Bowl game, the NFL could create a spirit of competition without putting players in a position to risk injury or to undergo any bodily toll.