Welcome to Bad Takes Week, where MMQB staffers have been asked to expand upon some of their worst football takes. These are columns on the ideas they believe in strongly, even if it makes the rest of the room groan during our pitch meetings. Keep an eye out for more of these throughout the week.
In the event you don’t remember this year’s Pro Bowl—that cohort would include the majority of the football-watching public—things looked pretty miserable. It was a dark and stormy afternoon in Orlando. Saquon Barkley and Alvin Kamara really lined up as interior defensive linemen, while Ezekiel Elliott tried his hand as a wide-9 edge rusher. There was a failed attempt at a flea-flicker that resulted in Mitchell Trubisky getting awkwardly toppled over by Jamal Adams, and Jason Garrett subsequently throwing a challenge flag for an infraction that could not be challenged.
J.J. Watt, who withdrew from the Pro Bowl after having an offseason clean-up procedure on his knee, tweeted this during the game.
I can’t remember which play he was talking about, because it could have been so many—but honestly, can you blame the players who emerged healthy from a 16-game gauntlet of a season for shrinking away from contact in a postseason all-star game?
This brings me to my take, which the editors at The MMQB assured me was bad enough for “Bad Take Week” despite my believing otherwise: Why not make the Pro Bowl a full-fledged flag football game?
A flag game between the NFL’s top players would be more competitive and entertaining than the half-hearted, half-speed scrimmage that commissioner Roger Goodell once threatened to cancel. It would drastically reduce the injury risk of the game, eliminating the hits that accrue during a player’s career like exposure to radiation. And, it could also help grow the flag game as a safer option for kids who want to play football but whose bodies and brains are not developed enough for them to be playing tackle.
“They don’t tackle [in the Pro Bowl] anyway,” quipped Michael Vick, who played in four Pro Bowls during his career with the Falcons and the Eagles. The former NFL QB is now a player and advisor with the American Flag Football League, a professional 7-on-7 flag league that was created in 2017 and will host a championship tournament at the Jets facility in New Jersey next weekend. So, I ran my Pro Bowl flag idea past Vick, mentioning the three reasons outlined above.
“It would have to be very innovative and well thought out,” Vick said. “The thing is, you take away from the defensive linemen and offensive linemen who play extremely hard throughout the year and want that recognition as a Pro Bowler. You have to figure out what you are going to do with those guys. You’ve got options. You can let them just stand on the sideline and look pretty, or… you’ve gotta figure out what those guys are going to do. But, it has potential. I think at the Pro Bowl you could maybe do a 7-on-7 game surrounding it, with just the skill players, instead of the other skill challenges they do. You can be creative with it, for sure.”
It has potential. I’ll take it! Yes, the linemen indeed present one hurdle to this idea. Flag is a non-contact passing sport in which blocking results in major penalties such as loss of down or the offending team even being forced to play a man or woman down. Instead, Albert Breer suggested a sideline bench press competition for the linemen. Beer-chugging, capitalizing on the recent trend, is another good option (Actually, the NFL should really add “Beer Chugging presented by Bud Light” to the “Pro Bowl Skills Showdown,” alongside real existing events such as “40 Yard Splash presented by McDonalds” and “Epic Pro Bowl Dodgeball presented by Skittles”). But, heck, the way things are now, we have running backs playing as linemen anyway. We can find a way to make it work.
If this idea were proposed when Vick was playing in the NFL, “I probably wouldn’t have liked it,” he said. “Even though you go to the Pro Bowl and you don’t want to get hit, you still want to give the fans something that is crowd-pleasing.” But, he also pointed out that the interest in flag is growing (more than 120 teams of adult amateur players competed at six regional sites across the country to earn 16 bids to next weekend’s AFFL championship tournament). And, there are a lot of different things that can be done on offense in the flag game that are outside of the rules of 11-on-11 football and fun to watch. Plus, it’s not like the current Pro Bowl product is exactly crowd-pleasing.
Part of the reason Vick got into flag football was because his daughter Jada, now 14, began playing on her school’s girls’ flag team in Florida. An article from The New York Times last fall cited statistics from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, stating that the number of kids aged 6-12 playing flag football had increased by 38% over the previous three years to 1.5 million, close to 100,000 more than the number of kids in that age range who play tackle.“It’s certainly a safer way to play the game, and I think parents would be more inclined to put their kids in flag before they put them in tackle football,” Vick said. “And I think it’s just a way to develop skill; you don’t have to get hit when you are 10, 11, 12 years old to learn the skill to play a position.”
The idea for a flag Pro Bowl came to mind for this reason—to continue to grow flag as a safer option for kids who want to play football. The Concussion Legacy Foundation last year started a Flag Football Under 14 campaign, sharing information with parents about how head impacts before that age can be more dangerous, because children’s brains are still developing and their bodies are less able to absorb collisions. There are plenty of prominent champions of the flag game, among them Drew Brees, who didn’t play tackle football until high school and went on to become a Super Bowl-winning QB. The NFL has also promoted the flag game, last year pledging grants to 400 Boys & Girls Club locations to fund flag teams and broadcasting AFFL games on NFL Network. Kids being able to watch their favorite NFL players play a competitive flag Pro Bowl would be another way to make this safer version of the sport more appealing.
We’ve joked for years that the Pro Bowl is a flag football game. Why not officially make it that way?
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