New-look Pro Bowl games could introduce ‘a higher level’ of competition

New-look Pro Bowl games could introduce 'a higher level' of competition

LAS VEGAS — Denver Broncos Cornerback Pat Surtain II he’s about to become a second-generation Pro Bowler, following in the footsteps of his father and namesake who went to three Pro Bowls with the Miami Dolphins.

But when father and son compare notes on their respective experiences, they will come to markedly different conclusions.

“Compared to now, the Pro Bowl back then was very different,” Surtain II said. “I mean, they were going full speed, competing, tackling, hitting. They were actually trying to win.”

Now, as the NFL kicks off its reimagined Pro Bowl games, the contrast couldn’t be more stark. No, this is not your father’s Pro Bowl.

After years of harsh criticism for the lack of competitive play in the traditional Pro Bowl game, the NFL this year is moving to a radically different format. The actual game will be replaced by a game of flag football on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas (3 pm ET, ABC/ESPN/ESPN+), with the various skills competitions tied to the overall point tally determining a winner in the AFC. duel vs. NFC.

The changes are bold and, perhaps, risky. But the status quo was no longer enough, the league and the players agreed.

“What didn’t feel right for the players and for us was that the game didn’t feel on par with the rest of the games and events that we do,” said Peter O’Reilly, NFL executive vice president. for club business and league events. “The week had always felt good. The player experience, the skill events, the camaraderie… This is changing what didn’t feel right and didn’t feel up to an NFL standard or our standard of player”.

It’s no secret that today’s players, who have become increasingly aware of their earning potential and who prioritize staying healthy, were especially concerned about the risk of injury from playing an extra football game on behalf of the fun.

In fact, it’s not even that recent as a concept. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers in 2012 he criticized the effort of his fellow Pro Bowlers, saying, “I was a little disappointed. I felt like some of the guys on the NFC side were embarrassed.”

The NFL, the players and the players’ union began delving into the issue last year. The sentiments expressed and ideas generated through a series of meetings led to the new format.

O’Reilly recalled a conversation in which the Broncos quarterback russell wilson he said, “This should be a flag game. We should make it that.” It wasn’t the first time the notion of a flag game had been broached, but it was one of many examples of players who helped shape the event into its current format.

Washington Commanders Receiver terry mclaurin, who will make his Pro Bowl debut, understands why the traditional game began to lose its luster. He struggled to come to terms with playing a legitimate tackle game several weeks after the conclusion of his season, when he would be out of shape by midseason.

“It would be a challenge right now,” he said. “I’ve been doing some yoga and Pilates and made sure to keep up a good sweat, but that’s about it.”

Because players use the weeks after the season to allow their bodies to recover and recharge, they don’t follow the kind of intense routines they do during the season.

“You’ll be rusty or susceptible to injury because your body is so used to working out or practicing every day,” McLaurin added. “Your body is so regimented. For you to do nothing for… close to a month, yeah, I think it would be hard to go out there and succeed.”

Said the New York Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley: “When guys have a month off, guys aren’t exercising or taking care of their bodies. There’s always a chance of injury when you play another game.”

While the NFL hopes the format will be well received, it’s very much an experiment. The reaction of fans and players will be closely monitored.

“We’re definitely going to learn and it’s going to be a fantastic opportunity to see it all come to life,” O’Reilly said. “That being said, we think the format is great. And we think it’s going to be a really cool experience. But different. Absolutely different. We understand that it may not appeal to the same thing.” [television] rating as a traditional game. It’s just a different experience, but that’s what we’re after.”

For this reason, nothing in the current format should be considered permanent, as the NFL and its players will continue back-end conversations to share feedback.

The skills competition aspect isn’t new, but the NFL has expanded that part of the week. Some of the new offerings this year: a longer tee shot contest and a blitz round consisting of a three-part elimination challenge are among the nine separate skill competitions players will participate in. The dodgeball event returns this year (10 times Pro Bowl). selection joseph thomas he once broached that idea in a meeting with league officials), as did the best-receiving competition.

The biggest change, however, will be the removal of the traditional game. It will be replaced by three flag football games pitting the AFC against the NFC, with the teams led by Peyton and Eli Manning, respectively. Points from the skills contests and the first two flag games will be added together and will be the score at the start of the third and final flag game, which will determine the winning conference.

By eliminating the high-impact collisions that are critical to tackle games, there’s a greater chance players will play harder and more aggressively than we’ve seen in recent Pro Bowls. Will it be so exciting? Who knows? But it certainly could address one of the biggest problems the Pro Bowl has suffered.

“I think the guys will go after him,” Surtain said. “I think it’s going to be a level-up competition. It’s the best of the best. I just think with everyone going, I wouldn’t say full speed, of course, but picking up the pace, you can have fun with it.”

Said McLaurin: “As a competitor, you’re going to bring out the best in me, whether we’re throwing bean bags or playing a real game of football. You want to represent yourself well and have a good time with your teammates… So, I look forward to you look forward to whatever they ask us to do. I’m definitely going to have fun with it, but also, I’m not just going out. [messing] around.”

Rich Cimini, ESPN New York Jets reporter, contributed to this report.

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