With NFL Europe/Europa/Whateva long gone and the Arena Football League close to joining it in extinction, football players not yet ready for the NFL have limited options for developing their game. And so the NFL continues to discuss the possibility of launching a developmental league.
“We’ve talked about it,” Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters earlier this week. “Some of you may have heard we spent a fair amount of time at the [quarterly] meeting on what we call the 2020 plan, which is talking about how we plan for the future and the things we want to accomplish. One of them is obviously the game, and how do we improve the game? A developmental league could be something that we want to do to try to help develop players.
“We pick up on the rosters from the start of the season to the end of the season, probably three to four hundred players on average. Having those players ready to play as quickly as possible and developed so that their skill set’s furthered are all positive things about the long-term future of the game. I particularly have an interest in that and would like to make sure we’re evaluating that as something that can help improve the game and improve our players.”
A developmental league particularly is needed for the quarterback position, where not nearly enough players are good enough to play at the NFL level. But a developmental league also would be useful for all other positions, along with officiating, coaching, and scouting.
The question is whether the NFL could make money from a developmental league and, if not, the amount of losses the league would be willing to tolerate. NFL Europe wasn’t profitable, and the league eventually decided to stop the sangre.
Some owners may see no reason to give players not yet ready to earn a roster spot a chance to do so — and plenty of players with one of those roster spots may agree. Still, there’s a need for game-ready talent when injuries inevitably occur.
Given the ongoing decline in TV ratings, the NFL also should be wary of potentially diluting the product by adding more football in presumably markets not currently served by the NFL. Would the fans in those markets support a minor league team? If so, would they be less likely to support a nearby NFL team?
As every other professional league has learned in the past 40 years, Americans love football — but only so much of it. Between high school, college, and the NFL, the saturation point possibly has been reached. Before the NFL adds even more football in the interests of developing better football, the NFL should be sure that the effort won’t fail miserably.