After more than a decade of discussions regarding potential changes to the Pro Bowl format and the lack of intensity or general care from players, fans and the media alike, the NFL announced significant changes Monday morning, turning the Pro Bowl into a Pro Bowl skills competition, ending 71 years of the exhibition game that started in 1951.
For Pittsburgh Steelers captain and star defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, who has made the trip to the Pro Bowl five straight years from 2017 to 2021, the changes aren’t surprising, and — in a sense — are needed as the league continues to evolve.
Speaking with reporters Monday from inside the Steelers’ locker room at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side, Heyward gave his thoughts on the changes that the league announced Monday morning following a report from the Associated Press’ Rob Maaddi, who broke the news originally.
“I gotta start playing better so I can show off my skills,” Heyward said to reporters Monday, according to video via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Chris Adamski. “Everything’s gotta evolve. Back in the day they used to have a skills competition, along with the actual game. The game has changed.
“I think a lot of guys are worried going into free agency about injuries. I can recount some guys actually getting hurt before their chance to negotiate contracts, so we have to be smart along with that,” Heyward added. “I know it’s a fan’s game, and we all want to take part, but at the same time we have to do what’s right for the players, and this is a great way; this is a week-long thing.”
It’s been a long, long time since the Pro Bowl actually mattered and players really tried in the game. As Heyward said, players in recent years have become concerned with injuries in the meaningless exhibition at the end of the season in the last true showing before free agency. Injuries sustained in that game could be significantly detrimental to a player seeking a new contract in free agency.
Players just haven’t tried in recent years, and the rating reflect that. Fans don’t care to watch, even if it’s football, because it’s so meaningless and guys are going through the motions.
That’s where the skills competition comes in and could generate significant interest, if done correctly, like the skills competitions were in the 90s and early 2000s. Those were fun, showed players in lighter situations and really allowed fans to get an up close and personal look at the competitors in a rather competitive environment with bragging rights on the line.
We’ll see how the new format plays out in 2023, but just based on the decision and announcement Monday, it’s headed back in the right direction.