Commentary

The Pro Bowl isn't for casual fans

There's no need for major changes for the NFL's all-star game. Leave it as is

Originally Published: February 1, 2012
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Aaron Rodgers, saying the obvious, didn't have flattering things to say about the NFC's 59-41 loss to the AFC in the Pro Bowl.

"I was just surprised that some of the guys either didn't want to play or, when they were in there, didn't put any effort into it," Rodgers said.

All you have to do is watch the lack of action and energy at the line of scrimmage to get an idea of the lack of effort. It's like "Dancing with the Stars." Offensive linemen engaged with defensive linemen as though they were in a waltz. It's been that way for the past couple of years.

But although people will push to make major changes to spice up the Pro Bowl, I'd leave it as is. Fans still like it. An average of 12.5 million fans tuned in. Its viewership topped the 2011 MLB All-Star Game's by 14 percent.

Pro football shouldn't follow the mistake of baseball in trying to make a major change to spike ratings. Baseball made the bold move of attaching home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that won the All-Star Game. In retrospect, that change didn't hold the viewership.

What needs to be realized is all-star games appeal to the hard-core fans, and most will watch. It's not an audience that can be manufactured with competitive enticements. Sure, the NFL can increase the pay for the participants, but that won't upgrade the effort or the quality of play. The paychecks of the stars won't equal the paychecks of the regular season, so the extra money won't change things.

I'd still prefer having the Pro Bowl after the Super Bowl so the Super Bowl teams could have the chance to play, but the ratings of the game between the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl remain pretty strong, so that might not change.

As Bill Belichick says to so many questions, "It is what it is."

From the inbox

Q: Hi John. Any chance the Redskins could trade down and build up some extra draft picks? They need to build up their offensive line. Yes, they need a quarterback, but with their line right now, no QB is going to be successful. I would rather see them get a good backup during this transition.

Brad in Greensboro, N.C.

A: I go the other way. Trading down and getting extra picks was a strategy used last year. It didn't get the Redskins anywhere. They need quality, and they need a quarterback. If they can't trade up for Robert Griffin III, they should sign Matt Flynn. It's probably better to go with Griffin and take care of the quarterback position for the next several years. Sure, the Redskins have a lot of needs. Some can be solved in free agency. I don't know whether they can totally solve their quarterback problems if they don't get Griffin or Flynn.

Q: I had a thought about the upcoming Super Bowl. It's a scenario similar to the last Super Bowl these two played. Would coach Belichick consider using Rob Gronkowski as a pass-rushing threat? If the (defensive) line is a little fatigued, and it needs someone young, strong and fast to perhaps make that sack that saves the game as opposed to last time? I know about his injury, but that aside, in general, your thoughts on this idea?

Jeff in Cape Cod, Mass.

A: That wouldn't work with his high ankle sprain, but I don't think it should be an option if he were 100 percent healthy. In college, Gronk had a lot of injury concerns, which is why he fell in the draft. He's a great tight end. What he did this past season changed the game and took the position of tight end to a higher level. Don't mess with success, although the one thing you know about Bill Belichick is that he would be willing to try anything to win a football game.

Q: With the Colts now in the rebuilding mode, and having the No. 1 draft pick (Andrew Luck) and the apparent (release) of Peyton Manning, with a completely different defensive philosophy (Chuck Pagano), who do you think they will draft with the 34th pick in this year's draft?

Stephen in Indianapolis

A: You figure by going offense with the first pick that they will go defense with the second pick. The preference will be getting a pass-rusher, but if not, they will have to look for a nose tackle or a cornerback. The Colts appear to be ready to switch over to a 3-4 defense, and now they have to start finding 3-4 personnel.

Q: I've been a lifelong Eagles fan, and since I'm going to school in Illinois, I get a lot of Bears games and updates. My question is, do the Eagles need to get rid of Asante Samuel this year, and since I'm pretty sure that answer is yes, then what could they get for him? I keep hoping that they trade Asante and Steve Smith to the Bears for Lance Briggs and Marion Barber. Briggs demanded a trade last year and could shore up the Eagles' linebackers by himself, and a true power back might help open up outside running lanes for LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick in Philly.

Curran in Reading, Pa.

A: They can't trade Smith because he's on a one-year deal and is a free agent. Trading for an older linebacker such as Briggs isn't the way the Eagles operate. They like younger players. But it may be time to move Samuel. They have to decide whether to be a man-to-man team or a zone team. Samuel will fit the zone scheme, but the Eagles should try to be more of a man team. It is time to move Samuel, and he might welcome a change of scenery.

Q: It seems of late the Giants line up their offensive linemen, throw them 20 passes each and the one that catches the most becomes the tight end. In spite of that, the Giants have a poor running game. What impact do you think a more currently prototypical tight end in the mold of Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Jermichael Finley or Vernon Davis would have on the Giants' offense?

Paul in Indian Harbour Beach, Fla.

A: A great pass-catching tight end would only make the Giants' offense that much better. They already are good in the middle of the field with Victor Cruz in the slot. Having a pass-catching tight end would create matchup problems and open up more single coverage for outside receivers. More weapons mean more big plays. It will be interesting to see if the Giants draft a tight end or go after one in free agency.

Q: I'm just wondering if you foresee more basketball players suddenly converting over to football after all of these tight ends suddenly popped up. There seems to be a new home for all these tall, strong guys, who can't quite make it in basketball. Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates started it, but now it seems to be trending up. What do you think?

Cole in New York

A: I don't see a big exodus from basketball, but there will be a few more. Basketball players have made the transition to football for decades, but the current success of players such as Gonzalez, Gates, Graham and others opens a new door. Some basketball players may not like the physical pain in football, but there is a pretty good blueprint of the success of what a good basketball player can do in the pros.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Graham
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireWith young stars like TE Jimmy Graham, the Saints are likely to be contenders for years to come.
Q: I have an idea that I think would be pretty innovative. Why don't teams draft a 6-foot-8 or 6-9 basketball player and use him strictly for red zone and special-teams purposes? He could be used to catch and defend fade routes, as it is essentially a jump ball anyway. This type of player would be a red zone nightmare. The other role would be to try to block all punts and field goals. This would be a surefire way to defend guys like Jimmy Graham and Gronkowski while also creating a lot of opportunities on the offensive side. What do you think?

Jordan in Lino Lakes, Minn.

A: Even though the red zone is a small area, that tall basketball player would need to be able to run pretty fast. The taller the athlete, the harder it is to find one who can run in the 4.7-second 40-yard-dash area or faster. Still, it is a good idea, and the evolution of tight ends in passing offenses is one of the league's hottest trends.

Q: What do you think of the Jags' offseason coaching moves so far? How many pieces do we need to add in free agency to become a division/playoff contender? Will we make a splash? Also, what direction should the Jags go with their top-10 draft pick? Thanks.

Fireman Rob in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

A: I think Mike Mularkey put together a decent coaching staff. That's a good start. The Jaguars have to go heavy on offense. They don't have a bad defense, but they are about as weak as it gets at receiver. I still can't believe they felt they could sign Jason Hill and think he could be good enough to be the starter. He was about the fourth- or fifth-best receiver in San Francisco. He came in as the No. 2 in Jacksonville. Then things went downhill from there.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Follow Clayton on Twitter @ClaytonESPN

John Clayton

NFL senior writer