The NFL Pro Bowl used to be one of the most exciting parts of football season, but over the years it's become as irrelevant as Motorola's two-way pager. Seeing the best players the game has to offer at the same time each year has now been reduced to nothing more than a filler between Championship weekend and the Super Bowl. Pro Bowl Sunday really just means the day before the start of the biggest week in North American esports.

You're probably wondering how we got to this point with the Pro Bowl. Much of this started when many of the top selected players began to retire from the game. And now that the game is firmly sandwiched between the league championship games and the Super Bowl, players on teams participating in the big game are automatically skipping the Pro Bowl. No NFL coaching staff allows a key player to play a meaningless game a week before the biggest game of his football career.

In such a violent sport, players are not willing to risk their careers in a late-season exhibition game like they used to. Some of you may remember the former New England Patriots running back Robert Edwards' career-changing injury during the 1999 Pro Bowl weekend. After a landmark 1998 rookie season in which he rushed for 1,115 yards and 9 TDs, it looked like Edwards was on his way to one of the next big backs of the new millennium.

Edwards attended the rookie flag football game over the Pro Bowl weekend in Hawaii, where he suffered a horrific knee injury. Edwards' knee was crushed when he tore his ACL, MCL and PCL ligaments during the game. The injury caused Edwards to sit out the next three years. He would field again for the Miami Dolphins in 2002 but only played in 12 NFL games following his phenomenal rookie campaign. He carried the ball 20 times for the Dolphins, recording just 107 yards and one TD. This might seem like an accidental but brutal injury, but the risk is always there, and it didn't even happen to the pads for Edwards. So I understand why players listen to this story and say the Pro Bowl probably isn't worth the risk.

The paycheck for playing the game is no longer enough to convince many players. In 2020, the boys on the winning team received $74,000 while the contestants on the losing team received $37,000. Yet many Pro Bowlers are already making more than the winners make per regular season game, so the dangling carrot is no longer enough. Pro Bowl level players are making so much money today that it really doesn't make sense for them to participate. Most players went back in time because the game was played in Hawaii for many years. It's an easy family vacation and you get an extra paycheck. That was before money really exploded in the last two decades. Now it's more of a chore than a reward for an excellent year.

Ultimately, that game means very little to most players today, and even less to many NFL fans. This is proven by the ratings of the last 20 years. The game will peak in one year, then decline for the next few years only to peak in another year and then begin its decline again. The Pro Bowl game in 2000 drew 13.2 million viewers, compared to 7.97 in 2020. The highest ratings in those 20 years was achieved in 2011 when 13.4 million fans tuned in. 2006 was the lowest at 6 million.

There are so many different options now on the Sunday before the Super Bowl than there were in 2000. Most fans just aren't as invested in this game as they used to be, and it's obvious. It sucks to say, but I don't see this game trending up anytime soon in terms of overall fan excitement.