The 2015 season is ready to close out over the next week as the season climaxes a week from tonight when Denver meets Carolina in the Super Bowl.
While the Minnesota Vikings’ season is done, for a handful of their players, the season will continue for one more game as Adrian Peterson, Everson Griffen, Harrison Smith, Teddy Bridgewater and Anthony Barr participate in the Pro Bowl.
The Pro Bowl gets its rightful share of criticism because, for the most part, it’s a fully padded walk-through practice that contains the occasional big hit. For Peterson, it won’t have a big impact on his career, but for the other four, it could be a major stepping stone for their futures, especially when it comes time for their next contract.
The Pro Bowl has been the domain of Peterson, who has been selected seven times – the only misses coming in 2011 when he was injured and 2014 when he was suspended. But his Hall of Fame résumé has already been cemented. Peterson doesn’t have to play another down and he’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He’s also at the fattest end of the biggest contract he’ll even have in his career. After the 2016 season, A.P.’s contract is going to be adjusted. He will have three options – a pay cut with the Vikings, a pay reduction with another team or retirement.
For the other four players, it’s a very different story.
Griffen, who was the first Viking added to the Pro Bowl roster, will be entering the third year of a five-year, $42.5 million contract he signed in 2014. At age 28, Griffen has earned every dime of his contract to date and there’s no reason to think that, when the contract expires shortly after he turns 31, he will have to settle for scraps. Having a Pro Bowl or two on his résumé will only help his case.
Smith’s eventual selection to the squad couldn’t come at a better time. While it was difficult to dispute the safeties that were initially named to the squad, anyone who saw Smith play over the last couple seasons could easily attest that he is a Pro Bowl-quality player. With the Vikings facing the decision of whether to re-sign Smith long-term or play out the fifth-year option of his rookie contract, being at the Pro Bowl gives him a ton of leverage in contract negotiations or potentially the free agent market.
Bridgewater, it can be argued, shouldn’t be a Pro Bowl quarterback because the reality of Pro Bowl recognition for skill position players is based almost solely on numbers. By no measure does Bridgewater qualify under that parameter. But the NFL hasn’t got where it’s at because the men behind the curtain that make the big decisions are idiots. They realize that their top draw quarterbacks of the present – Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo and, to a lesser extent, Aaron Rodgers – are aging fast and won’t be around much longer. The time is now to market young stars to be the heirs apparent for those spots, which explains why guys like Russell Wilson, Tyrod Taylor, second-year guys Bridgewater and Derek Carr and rookie Jameis Winston are going to be taking snaps.
It could be argued that, of those five, only Wilson is truly deserving of the all-star designation, but, for the rest of them, being recognized as a Pro Bowl player is a defining statement that will follow them for life – like an Academy Award nominee follows actors. It’s a bargaining chip for Bridgewater to use to earn the contract that will make him a Viking into the next decade.
Perhaps nobody could benefit more from his selection than Barr. In his second season, Barr is already turning heads as a playmaker. Getting selected to the Pro Bowl will get him noticed nationally as a player with a Pro Bowl on his NFL biography. Often the criteria used by players and coaches is to take guys with experience in the Pro Bowl in the popularity contest of player selection. With his first selection under his belt, if Barr continues to play at the level he has and the Vikings have a big year in 2016, he’ll get picked to the team in December, not January.
The Pro Bowl isn’t must-see TV for a lot of fans, but for four of the five Vikings that were selected weeks after Peterson was announced, there could be a lot of importance attached to their performances at the Pro Bowl. Just ask Kyle Rudolph. He used an at-large selection to win the MVP and get rewarded with a huge contract the following summer.
Don’t underestimate the importance of the Pro Bowl, not for who wins or loses on the field, but who wins or loses when it come contract time.