Labriola On

Labriola on Pro Bowl, Julio in LI, Martavis

Ready or not, here it comes:

  • If you're a football fan who hates the Pro Bowl, who would like nothing more than for it to go away because it's not what qualifies as a real sporting event, and whatever it is, it's surely not football, apparently there are a bunch of people who disagree with you.
  • The 2017 Pro Bowl was held last Sunday, and in addition to the 60,834 who paid to watch it live, the game drew a 4.6 overnight rating for ESPN. That rating reflects a loss of 8 percent over the previous year's telecast, and that rating also reflects a steady decline since the game's all-time best of an 8.6 on FOX in 2011.
  • But while a 4.6 rating represents pathetic in the world of the NFL on TV, it's actually quite representative in the world of sports on TV. The other sports attractions that same weekend were Kansas at Kentucky, a matchup of the No. 2 and the No. 4 college basketball teams in the country; and the NHL All-Star Game. The Pro Bowl drew more than twice as many viewers as Kansas-Kentucky, and that game was ESPN's most-watched college basketball game of the season. The NHL All-Star Game, televised by NBC, drew a 1.6 rating.
  • It's called "voting at the cash register," and it's a reliable way to gauge star power in professional sports. The NFLPA recently released its list of the top 50 players in terms of jerseys sold, and this particular list is the first to include sales that took place during the 2016 NFL season, which makes it the most up-to-date list of the player jerseys fans are plunking down their hard-earned cash to wear.
  • Tom Brady finished No. 1, to reclaim the top spot from Dez Bryant who was No. 1 at the end of the 2015 season. And while Bryant dropped out of the top spot, he was one of five Cowboys players to rank in the top 15 – Ezekiel Elliott (2), Bryant (3), Dak Prescott (8), Jason Witten (13), and Tony Romo (14). The Seattle Seahawks tied the Cowboys for the most players among the top 50 in jersey sales, but their guys were farther down the list – Russell Wilson (6), Richard Sherman (21), Tyler Lockett (39), Kam Chancellor (47), and Jimmy Graham (50).
  • The Steelers, with three players in the top 50, were one of seven teams to have three or more players on the list. The Seahawks and Cowboys tied with five, Minnesota had four, and New England, Green Bay, Oakland, and Pittsburgh had three apiece. The Steelers' representatives were Antonio Brown (11), Ben Roethlisberger (22), and Le'Veon Bell (24).
  • During an offseason when Le'Veon Bell can hit unrestricted free agency and Antonio Brown qualifies for a contract extension, this was a ho-hum announcement, but the guy who signed the papers is an example of someone who gets it. That someone is Greg Warren, a long-snapper by trade who has fashioned a 12-year NFL career for himself by not being greedy or stubborn.
  • Because Warren is amenable to signing a one-year contract each year for the veteran minimum salary, he is eligible to earn around $1 million per season as a veteran of his experience, while only costing the Steelers $680,000 on their cap. This is a mutually beneficial arrangement, particularly for a guy who can ply his trade longer than the normal position player. Particularly for a guy who plays a position where teams constantly are looking for a younger and cheaper alternative.
  • Super Bowl LI will kick off in some 48 hours, and if the game is to be sufficiently competitive to keep eyeballs glued to the television for the whole 60 minutes, the Atlanta Falcons are going to have to show more poise than they ever have in a particular game. Not because of the makeup of their roster, and not even because their opponent will be the Belichick/Brady New England Patriots.
  • It has been said by many seasoned NFL people that the winning team in each of these is the one that's the first to figure out the Super Bowl is just another game. The player on each team most likely to be impacted by the magnitude of the game is the quarterback, and since Tom Brady handles that job for the Patriots, all eyes will be on Matt Ryan early on Sunday.
  • If Ryan doesn't allow the moment to get the best of him early – he needs to live up to his Matty Ice moniker – the Patriots are going to be at a serious disadvantage against Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones. I don't care about Belichick's reputation for taking away one thing the opposing offense does well, the Patriots don't have the personnel to take away Jones.
  • A big, physical, fast receiver is the most difficult matchup for any NFL defense, because the way the rules are written doesn't allow for the opposition to be as physical with the receiver as the receiver will be allowed to be with the cornerback(s) trying to cover him.
  • That's what the Steelers hope to have again if/when Martavis Bryant is reinstated by the commissioner and is allowed to return after a one-year suspension for another violation of the drug policy. Bryant officially has applied for reinstatement, and Steelers President Art Rooney II said he's hopeful there would be some resolution of the application in around 60 days, but even if Bryant is reinstated that doesn't mean the hard part will be over.
  • "I'm not sure at this point you can use the words, 'count on him,'" said Rooney. "We're waiting for a decision to be made by the league, and then at that point we'll have an opportunity to kind of evaluate him a little more closely ourselves. And so, I would say there's a way to go in terms of really understanding where he is, and understanding where he is in relationship to our team. Obviously, he has a tremendous amount of talent and potential. To the extent that we can have him on the team and have him bring his talent to its fullest potential would be great, but got a ways to go before any of us understand where that is."
  • A similar state of uncertainty hovers over Ladarius Green, but for a different reason. With Green, the issue has been recurring concussions.
  • "I don't think I can shed a lot of light on it, other than that there are some physical conditions he has that we have to evaluate," said Rooney. "We have to have the doctors evaluate. I think it's another part of the offseason that we have to kind of see where it unfolds."
  • In that respect, this offseason is off to a typical start. More questions than answers.
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