Why modern-era NFL awards are losing credibility
As the 2023 NFL Playoffs continue as teams get set for the AFC and NFC Championship games and February’s Super Bowl, annual awards handed out to outstanding players whose performances made an impact are being awarded. Unfortunately, much like changes to the Pro Bowl format that have led to fan dissatisfaction, modern era awards that were once highly respected are losing credibility.
With a decline in clarity on how awards are determined, who votes for them – as well as fanbases and players alike questioning the appearance that awards have become popularity contests rather than statistical evidence of superior play – it’s becoming more and more evident that NFL awards no longer carry the same respect they once did. That endangers decades of sports history.
.@Lj_era8 (Lamar Jackson) is the PFWA's 2023 NFL MVP; @CMC_22 (Christian McCaffrey) is the Offensive Player of the Year; @Flash_Garrett (Myles Garrett) is the Defensive Player of the Year:https://t.co/EpPttTYvY2 pic.twitter.com/5381qQQaqV
— Pro Football Writers (@PFWAwriters) January 24, 2024
The PFWA: Who are they & why do they matter?
“PFWA” refers to the Pro Football Writers of America. Their website states their association is, “the official voice of pro football writers promoting and fighting for access to NFL personnel to best serve the public.” The association president for 2023-24 is Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News. Membership into the association is by application and determined by a board.
For 60 years, the PFWA has been made up of accredited writers who cover the NFL and all 32 teams within the league on a daily basis. They’ve been given status within the league due to the CBA (collective bargaining agreement).
There are numerous editors, sports writers, analysts, and reporters who cover the NFL – many outside of traditional newspaper media – who are not invited or accepted into the PFWA fold.
Our annual correction about NFL MVP awards: There is no "official NFL MVP award". NFL & NFLPA treats PFWA, AP, Sporting News & Sports Illustrated equally in CBA for awards as seen below. The NFL has a marketing agreement with the AP to present its' major awards at NFL Honors. pic.twitter.com/cPdGGvKfyW
— Pro Football Writers (@PFWAwriters) January 20, 2021
The AP, Sporting News, and SI involvement in awards
The Associated Press (AP) is an American not-for-profit news agency headquartered in New York City that was founded in 1846 and is reported to operate as a “cooperative,unincorporated association,” and it “produces news reports that are distributed to its members, major U.S. daily newspapers and radio and television broadcasters.”
Sporting News and Sports Illustrated are both longstanding sports reporting outlets that have gained the support of the NFL and NFLPA in being considered to be comprised of experts on sports professionals/players, and are also given special access under the CBA.
Does the NFL recognize the awards as official?
The NFL/NFLPA contract specifically mentions these groups and their awards are recorded into the official NFL Fact and Record book as well as the official NFL Encyclopedia and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Why are fans becoming disillusioned by the awards?
Every NFL fan base wants to see their players handed an NFL award. It’s a normal response. Every year questions pop up as to why a certain player was awarded over another, and this year proved to be no different.
Scanning X (formerly Twitter), fans can see posts by individuals who were involved in official voting, and some who weren’t a part of the process, sharing their “picks.”
My choices (and got my vote in PFWA awards):
MVP: Lamar Jackson
OPOY: Tyreek Hill
DPOY: Maxx Crosby
Coach: Dan Campbell
Assistant coach: Ben Johnson
Comeback player: Baker Mayfield
OROY: CJ Stroud
DROY: Devon Witherspoon https://t.co/NAbA27c5n7
— Levi Damien (@LeviDamien) January 25, 2024
One of the biggest discussion this week followed PFWA naming Myles Garrett of the Cleveland Browns their Defensive Player of the Year, and the fallout was evident across social media. Why? Garrett’s overall defensive statistics throughout the season were not statistically better than other candidates from a handful of NFL teams.
— Michael Bertsch (@SteelersPRMike) January 24, 2024
Watt was named AFC Defensive Player of the Year by the ‘Committee of 101‘ that is a national selection group made up of 101 sportswriters and broadcasters that cover the NFL. It was the third time in his career that Watt had been given the award.
For Pittsburgh Steelers fans, T.J. Watt was as close to a consensus pick for NFL Defensive Player of the Year as the league could get. And, when compared next to Garrett (even though the two technically play different positions), the uproar was deafening.
While the AP DPOY award is generally seen as the more official award in the NFL, fans felt the PFWA had snubbed Watt.
Across the board of PFWA and ‘101’ awards, fans of all 32 NFL teams debated the legitimacy of the final results. Maybe it’s just part of the modern sports world colliding with social media, but the opinions of members of committees recognized by the NFL/NFLPA CBA are under high scrutiny. The AP awards will come next.
When the NFL chose to eliminate the Pro Bowl game in favor of a weekend of games and skills contests, the former lustre of being named a ‘Pro Bowler’ was lost. The Pro Bowl has, over time, become more and more irrelevant according to three independent polls in three years, including one regarding the 2023 Pro Bowl that will be played ahead of the Super Bowl this year.
With statistics not being the most important guiding factor to how the PFWA, AP, SI, Sporting News, and ‘101’ are determining their seasonal and postseason NFL awards, it’s clear that relevance and credibility will continue to be questioned.
How can a player be “the best” if his statistics fall short of others? How could a quarterback, for example, be named Offensive Player of the Year if he did not produce offensive output that exceeded other players whose offensive output was superior?
It would not be unexpected to see more players making public statements, such as the one that follows:
— TJ Watt (@_TJWatt) January 25, 2024
Was Watt simply sharing a positive quote that had nothing to do with awards and accolades? It’s possible.
One thing is clear. Without a common standard among those groups, associations, committees, and individuals responsible for awarding players in the NFL, credibility declines until being an award winner means next to nothing.
That, for fans of the game, would erode more of the faith that’s placed on how those awards help determine who enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a player.
Take that faith away and those who are enshrined, and those who will be, no longer will be seen as shining examples of what is truly great in football. That would devastate a sport that has been a part of national pride and competition for decades.