The NFL has long made use of college football as a sort of developmental league, but with the propagation of the spread offense, NFLE long gone and the simple fact that more and more players are coming out of college unprepared for the pro game, it is time the league did something about this. And when I say it is time for the league to do something about this, I mean it is time for the NFL to put up its own money and do this the right way, on its own. Not a competitive league. Not a derivative game with different rules such as the CFL or the Arena League. I mean it is time for the NFL to step up and support a minor league.
I severely dislike the Developmental Academy idea Troy Vincent has mentioned for several reasons, including the fact that who is going to decide what skills these players need to develop? The Seahawks are not going to take a cornerback from the developmental academy because he wouldn’t know the step-kick, but if they suffered a late season injury and needed a player, someone who had been practicing with their minor league team and was familiar with their scheme and the step-kick would have an easier time adapting. Would the Carolina Panthers have been better off last season if they had been able to pull cornerbacks up from a minor league rather than adding street free agents to the team?
Next, who are the coaches for the Developmental Academy going to be? Coaches that aren’t good enough to be on staff with an NFL or college team? Thanks, but no thanks. How much good can it really do to have a Developmental Academy where the coaches are the guys who were in charge of the Saints defense last season? I mean, the only way any of those guys is ever going to be able to get a job in football again is if they get hired by a family member.
If the NBA can support the WNBA for nearly two decades, I have no doubt that the NFL can successfully foster and support a full 32-team minor league and not only survive, but thrive. My proposal for this would be as follows:
Full 32 team minor league, with each NFL franchise having a portion of its roster allocated to a complete minor league team. The roster composition for each NFL team would be comprised of 95 players. Each team would continue to have 46 active players on gameday, 39 slots for the minor league roster and an additional 10 slots for hybrid players who are able to play on either the minor league team or the NFL team depending on needs. Offseason rosters would be expanded to 125 slots.
The 34 players on the minor league team are very similar to players on the practice squad, in that they are subject to be poached by another NFL team, but must remain on the active roster for a specified period of time. I also wouldn’t be opposed to a system whereby the team could protect certain players on its minor league team for a certain amount of time (say a year or two), such as draft picks. Such a protection system could be set up with a system like the RFA tender rules, it could be done based on a certain number of years or could be similar to the option system in baseball’s minor league (does baseball still use the option system?). In any case, the specifics of the exact machinations are not as important as the fact that the NFL needs a developmental league.
The minor league games will be played on Tuesday and Wednesday evening, and by splitting the start times between East and West coast, the league can ensure that as many games as possible are played in primetime in the home team’s local market. Putting this many games on TV will help to pay for the expenses of the league, and with each team being associated with one of the NFL teams, there will be a built in fanbase that exists. Nobody cares about the Brooklyn Bolts, but if the Jets or Giants had a minor league team of players who could potentially be on the field for the big club the next week, it would attract some viewership. On a random Tuesday in November would you rather watch Hotel Hell or the Baby Seahawks versus the Cardinal Hatchlings?
I’m not saying the teams would sell out every game. In fact, the majority of tickets they sell would probably be tickets only sold as a requirement for fans of the NFL team to purchase minor league tickets in order to have the right to purchase season tickets, just like how teams force season ticket holders to pay full price for preseason games or else not be able to purchase regular season tickets. One key to remember, though, is that the majority of the revenue for the league will not come from ticket sales. It will come from TV revenues, sponsorships and merchandising. Nike might be paying the NFL $200+ million a year for the right to be the official merchandiser, but nobody is currently paying for the right to be the official merchandiser for the NFL Developmental League and I’ve got reps from both Under Armour and Reebok on hold right now, Mr. Nike.
These are just my ideas, and I’m open to any suggestions or input anyone has on this topic. I think it is way past time for the NFL to start a developmental league, and I firmly believe that there is a ton of money the league is leaving on the table, as a developmental league could easily turn a nice profit for the league.
What does anybody else think?