Gerald McCoy has been to five Pro Bowls already and he soon will be headed to his sixth straight. Only once has he had to make that trip to the NFL's annual all-star game as the lone representative of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
That was following the 2014 season, when the Pro Bowl was still held in Hawaii. The next winter, McCoy had plenty of Buccaneer company on the islands, as Lavonte David, Doug Martin, Logan Mankins and Jameis Winston were all selected for that game, as well. Notably, three of those five Bucs – Lavonte David, Logan Mankins and Jameis Winston - were named to the team after being identified as alternates for the Pro Bowl in the original announcement of the roster. They eventually replaced other selections who were either injured or still putting in work in the playoffs.
Could that happen again this year? Could McCoy have a teammate or two to carpool with on the drive up I-4 to Orlando, where the Pro Bowl has found a new headquarters? The answer will come, or not, in the next three-plus weeks. The 2018 Pro Bowl will be played on the afternoon of Sunday, January 28, one week before Super Bowl LII. Announcements of replacement all-stars will trickle in between now and then (one already did), sometimes right up until the first few days of the Pro Bowl's week of practice.
For example, when the Buccaneers saw their all-star contingency grow from two to five two years ago, David and Mankins got the nod a week before the game and Winston was added just six days in advance. Thus, Buccaneer fans can continue hoping for most of this month that they'll have more than one player to watch in this year's Pro Bowl.
Specifically, the Buccaneers have three players who have been identified as alternates: inside linebacker Kwon Alexander, tight end Cameron Brate and David, an outside linebacker. Alexander and Brate could potentially get their first Pro Bowl honors, while David has a shot to go for the second time in the last three years.
The most common way that alternates become actual participants is when players at their position advance deep into the playoffs. As such, the game results over the next few weekends could be the deciding factors for Alexander, Brate and David…and in some cases a result that's good for one of them could be detrimental to the others. For instance, if Minnesota and Philadelphia were to meet in the NFC Championship Game, the final outcome would offer help to either Brate or David, but not both.
Why? Well, let's take a look at who stands in front of each of the Bucs' three Pro Bowl alternates. Keep in mind that the NFL does not announce what level of alternate each player is (first alternate, second alternate, etc.), so it might take more than one Pro Bowl recusal to get another Buc in the game.
NFC Inside Linebackers (Kwon Alexander as an alternate):
- Luke Kuechly, Carolina*
- Bobby Wagner, Seattle
NFC Tight Ends (Cam Brate as an alternate):
- Zach Ertz, Philadelphia*
- Jimmy Graham, Seattle
NFC Outside Linebackers (Lavonte David as an alternate):
- Anthony Barr, Minnesota*
- Chandler Jones, Arizona
- Ryan Kerrigan, Washington
( Team is in the playoffs.)
One of the two inside linebackers ahead of Alexander is still in the playoffs. Only advancing all the way to the Super Bowl guarantees that a selected Pro Bowler will miss the all-star game, but injuries or fatigue can cause a player whose team makes a deep playoff run to pull out. Alexander would be helped if the Panthers can advance well into the playoffs.
If Carolina were to defeat New Orleans in the opening round of the NFC playoffs this weekend, they would likely play the top-seeded Eagles in the Divisional Round. However, if Atlanta wins at Los Angeles this weekend, the Falcons would go to Philly and the Panthers would play in Minnesota.
If that happens, then the best interests of Alexander and David would be at odds.
David has three outside linebackers on the Pro Bowl roster in front of him, but only one of them is in the playoffs. That happens to be Minnesota's Anthony Barr, who is also the only one of the three who is a 4-3 outside linebacker like David instead of a 3-4 edge rusher. The fact that those two positions continue to be lumped together is an annual impediment to David making the Pro Bowl, even in his best seasons. Still, if Barr and the Vikings make it to the Super Bowl, it would increase David's odds.
If Carolina does end up in Philly, then a second Panthers win would help Alexander even more but diminish Brate's chances of being selected. Of the two tight ends chosen for the Pro Bowl's NFC squad, only Philadelphia's Zach Ertz is still in action in the postseason.
*The Buccaneers' last-minute addition of three alternates two years ago was an anomaly, not the norm. it is highly unlikely that all three of Alexander, Brate and David will be added to the NFC's Pro Bowl squad over the next three weeks. But it's certainly possible that one or two will get the call. Follow the playoffs, and you'll have a better idea of which of the three is getting close.