As the title implies, the NFL has decided to make some changes to how the annual Pro Bowl is conducted… effective this season. I’m not sure I’m going to be a fan of it, honestly.
It all started innocently enough. I was perusing through my Facebook updates when I came across a link from the San Francisco 49ers about Jerry Rice being a captain during this season’s Pro Bowl. I scratched my head and took a moment to think about what I had just read before clicking the link.
“Jerry Rice? Pro Bowl captain?”
“No… I mean, I know he’s, like, the NFL’s equivalent to Michael Jordan, but shit…”
“Hmm… well, let’s see what it says.”
Needless to say, that link I clicked went beyond Rice being a captain during the upcoming Pro Bowl (which is an honor he shares with Deion Sanders… an “alumni team captain” as the article states). The entire format of the Pro Bowl — from selections to game specifications — has been changed. I’m not exactly sure what I think about it right now. As cool as it would be to see Rice and Sanders play again — the two have a combined 5 Super Bowl rings (winning Super Bowl XXIX on the same team), 21 Pro Bowl appearances, and 20 All-Pro awards — they’re a combined 95 years of age (Rice is 50, Sanders is 45), so it’s safe to assume that even men of this caliber — hailed by many as the greatest players of all-time at their respective positions — might have lost a step or two. Combine that with the altered format making it’s debut on January 26th, and I’m not sure if the game — that I’ve often never really cared about — has lost any credibility it may have still retained.
NFLPA President Dominique Foxworth — a former NFL player, who from 2005-2011, played for the Broncos, Falcons, and Ravens — wanted to make the Pro Bowl experience even more fan-friendly than it has been. Of course, his plan, despite being approved by all parties who amend league statutes (including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell), seems to alienated me, and judging by what I’ve read, other fans as well.
The changes made to the Pro Bowl are as follows, and in the sequence:
On January 22, 2014, there will be a “Pro Bowl Draft” conducted, broadcast on NFL Network. Two leading vote getters will be joined by two NFL.com fantasy champions, one being the winner of the Lenovo Fantasy Coach of the Year contest and the other being someone selected from NFL.com’s fantasy football game. Rice and Sanders’ roles are also extended into the “war room”, assisting the winners with their draft picks. The Pro Bowl Draft also eliminates the game’s signature AFC vs. NFC format, meaning that now players are able to play against teammates, should the picks align in such a way. Apparently, this is way to make sure the Pro Bowl remains competitive, which for some reason, is one of the biggest criticisms of the game.
Another major change being made is the removal of kickoffs. Last season, Roger Goodell had made statements about possibly taking kickoffs out of the game, citing the frequency and severity of player injuries on kickoff plays as the primary motivator. While kickoffs weren’t removed from the game last season (which really was one of the last things the league needed to be worrying about), the 2014 Pro Bowl will give the players and fans a look into how that change could impact the game, especially since it makes the field longer for offenses and takes a lot of impact players (such as Oakland’s Josh Cribbs) out of the equation, forcing them to play other positions aside of kick returning.
Cribbs actually had this to say about the matter:
I’m glad I made the pro bowl when I did doing what I love to do, & being the best at it…
— Josh Cribbs (@JoshCribbs16) July 31, 2013
Since the plan is to remove kickoffs from the equation, offenses will start on their own 25-yard line. By way of comparison, during the 2010-11 NFL season, the average starting field position for the league was their own 22-yard line. Does three yards make a difference? Absolutely. The change also severely cripples “explosive plays” for offenses, since kickoff returns for touchdowns do a lot as far as shifting the balance of power in a game and psyching up players.
Other amendments to the rules of the Pro Bowl include:
- A two-minute warning will be added to the first and third quarters of the game, as well as the already established two-minute warning during the second and fourth quarters.
- Possession of the ball changes at the end of each quarter.
- Defenses are now allowed to use Cover 2 and and press coverage, whereas previously, they were restricted to using man-to-man, except in goal line situations.
- During the two minute warning, the game clock will be stopped if the offense fails to convert at least one yard. This change’s purpose is to encourage offenses to still convert yardage at the end of each quarter. Basically, no running out the clock by taking a knee.
- The game will use a 35-second/25-second system, in lieu of the current 40-second/25-second system.
- The game clock will resume after an incomplete pass on the signal of referee, except during the two-minute warnings and the final five minutes of the game.
- The game clock will not stop when a quarterback is sacked, outside of the game’s final two minutes.
I know, it makes my head hurt, too.
I have no problems with change when it comes to the NFL. As a fan, I’ve grown to accept it. However, these changes, especially the one’s that have been made to the clock and to field position, border on the insane. Players will probably have a hard time implementing the changes, especially coming off a sixteen-game (even possibly nineteen-game) season where these radical changes were not implemented.
Wait a minute.
My inner conspiracy theorist just opened my eyes to something. Of course, I’m not making accusations, but is it possible these changes that are being implemented into the Pro Bowl could be a way for the NFLPA and the NFL offices to test rule changes that could be used during the season? Hell, Roger Goodell has been talking a lot about removing kickoffs from the game and making it “safer”. Hmm… very interesting. All I know, is that the Pro Bowl will be played in Honolulu, Hawaii on January 26, 2014, and the game being played will be unlike any NFL contest ever seen. I just hope it’s not a sign of things to come.