NFL stars are fleeing the 2016 Pro Bowl in historic numbers, the culmination of a trend that should prompt serious discussion about the future of the all-star event.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the official number of players either voted to the Pro Bowl or added as an alternate had reached 133. That's the highest number in NFL history, according to Elias Sports Bureau research, and well beyond the previous high of 119 set after the 2009 season.
A total of 86 players were originally voted to the game, to be played Sunday in Honolulu, Hawaii. It will be televised at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Players decline invitations for a variety of reasons, including injuries and whether they are a member of a Super Bowl entrant. But this year has produced an increased number of players who were simply uninterested.
That has forced the league to push far down its list of alternates to fill some positions. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, named Monday as a replacement, was the eighth player at his position to be either invited or announced in addition to the six quarterbacks voted in. The Cincinnati Bengals' Adam Jones, named Tuesday, was the seventh alternate at cornerback.
The quarterback position has been especially hard hit. The Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson is the only player voted in who remains on the roster. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is playing in Super Bowl 50, but the New England Patriots' Tom Brady, the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger and the Arizona Cardinals' Carson Palmer have all backed out.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, the first alternate, couldn't play because of a thumb injury that caused him to miss the playoffs. The San Diego Chargers' Philip Rivers declined an alternate invitation and the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees is presumed to have done the same.
That left this collection of quarterbacks for the game: Wilson, the Oakland Raiders' Derek Carr, the New York Giants' Eli Manning, the Buffalo Bills' Tyrod Taylor, the Minnesota Vikings' Teddy Bridgewater and Winston.
Again, the timing of the Pro Bowl impacts player attendance when it is held before the Super Bowl. There also isn't much of a financial incentive to alternates; players only receive contractual bonuses if they are among the originals voted in. Players on the winning team do receive $58,000; the loser's share is $29,000. But when nearly 8 percent of the 1,696-player league is invited to play in what should be an exclusive game, it's difficult to advertise it as a legitimate collection of all-stars.
If anything, this Pro Bowl will be a gathering of future stars. Perhaps that is an idea for Pro Bowls moving forward. There's nothing wrong with voting on a true year-end All-Star team, but perhaps the Pro Bowl could be played by promising younger players -- the Derek Carrs and Jameis Winstons of each season -- who would be eager to participate and to be marketed as the future of the league. Just a thought as the roster hemorrhage continues.