One of the fundamental differences between the Pro Bowl and the all-star games in baseball, basketball and hockey is that those other sports’ all-star games really do have all the stars.
In the NFL, however, dozens of players turn down Pro Bowl invitations. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 37 players who were chosen declined to participate, and it’s unclear whether that number encompasses every player who declined because in some cases, an alternate turns the Pro Bowl invitation down, and the NFL then moves on to the next alternate without ever making an announcement.
Players often cite injuries as a reason not to play, and that’s obviously an acceptable reason, although many players are citing injuries that they had no problem playing with in the regular season. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, for instance, insisted in December that he was fine playing through his finger injury, but when he was given a Pro Bowl invitation this week as an alternate, he declined because of his finger.
There’s really not much the NFL can do about this: Many players don’t want to play, and the NFL can’t make them. If the league wanted to entice more players to play it could increase the payments to the players, currently at $61,000 for the winning team and $30,000 for the losing team. But for multimillionaires who have just been through a grueling season, it would have to be a lot more money to get them to do it.
So the NFL is probably stuck with an all star game that doesn’t have all the stars, or even close to all the stars.