NFL needs developmental league, for plenty of reasons

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When the NFL pulled the plug on whatever the World League was known as in its final existence, the NFL likewise removed the ability of young players to get much-needed live reps.

But it’s more than players who benefit from a league that helps develop talent.  The coaching pipeline remains less than full without opportunities to teach and scheme and call plays and make decisions in real games in real time.

With only four minority head coaches and a dearth of minority assistants in key positions on offense, a developmental league would go a long way toward filling the pipeline with coaches of all backgrounds and ethnicity.  From time to time, reports and musings surface of such an effort, but the thinking is that the NFL has decided not to do it because it wouldn’t be profitable.

Even if it’s not, it’s part of the cost of ensuring that the game is grooming those with potential to become the best they can be, perhaps even better than some of the folks who currently rise to the top of the profession.

It also would help develop and improve game officials, who based on what we’ve seen this year (and in most years) could always use some development and improvement.

So here’s hoping the NFL’s list of New Year’s resolutions includes finally bringing back a developmental league.

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45 responses to “NFL needs developmental league, for plenty of reasons

  1. As a Canadian I suggest buying the CFL and using the teams as NFL farm teams. I can’t imagine it would be very expensive.

  2. I can’t believe that the NFL has not set up a ‘minor’ league of their own instead of relying on the NCAA. MLB has a huge minor league structure. The NHL also has a minor league structure(when that league is not in a lock out) Even the NBA has set up an actual NBA D(evelopmental)League.

  3. Again with the insinuation that today’s NFL is, for the most part, fundamentally racist. Do you honestly believe that a guy will be passed up by any of the 32 NFL teams because he’s not white?

    Don’t even try to give me this garbage. The best man should get each job that is available, regardless of what color he is.

  4. Don’t forget about announcers. I remember hearing Troy Aikman cutting his teeth on a Rhein Fire broadcast way back when. That turned out pretty good.

    It seems like great broadcast teams are like elite QB’s – there just aren’t enough to go around.

    Wouldn’t it be something if there were up to 13 amazing booth teams every Sunday?

    Of course with the league’s focus on getting people to pay for PSL’s this one is probably on the back burner.

  5. MLB is probably lobbying hard against a developmental football league. Given the popularity of football, that would take a huge bite out of their fan and revenue base.

  6. Dude, I’ve been saying this for years. Buy out the UFL if it’s still available. Expand for more teams, and make it a Spring time league for the guys who spend a lot of time bouncing around practice squads. Then show a few games a week on the NFL Network. More money for the league, better development for players.

    I know full well that it’s not the NFL caliber football, but I really enjoyed the UFL. The Virginia Destroyers played about 10 minutes from my house, and let me tell you, going to those games was a blast! Anyone who’s been to a semi-pro baseball game knows how fun those games can get. It was the same in the UFL. I’d be 100 percent for it.

  7. Agreed 1000%
    James Harrison anyone?
    LOTS of good players came from the nfl Europe league.

  8. The NFL is using the college ranks free of charge as a player/coach development entity. More teams are adopting the collegiate spread offense and a the league allows underclassmen to declare for the draft. Why would they want to pony up their own cash for something inferior?

    A development league would, because of the requirement of many bodies, be populated with players without a chance to ever play at the next level and offer a boring, watered-down product. A coach trying to win with less than top shelf talent could easily be viewed as a coach with limited ability to teach and motivate.

  9. Fred Jackson is a great example of a player benefitting off of playing for an NFL farm team.

  10. I agree, and will add this: a minor league for football should be done in-season in satellite markets, like baseball, and use the same playbooks as it’s sponsor team, so that if a player in the NFL is hurt, they can call up a minor leaguer who knows the system.

  11. A sound idea all the way around for the development of players, coaches, and officials. Maybe there would be more well-prepared, experienced QB’s, something the NFL always seems to be looking for?

  12. The NFL is reserved for the best of the best. You either have it or you don’t. Players careers are short enough that no team would want a young player accumulating the wear and tear while being coached by inferior personnel riding a learning curve. I bet they will leave it the way it is.

  13. The new USFL starts playing in the spring of 2014. The league will be a spring league and not compete with the NFL (No Trump). Their desire is to fill that role of a developmental league for the NFL. I don’t believe the NFL will have a stake in the league. Players will be free to jump to the NFL if an opportunity presents itself (Not like the UFL buyout).

  14. It sounds good if the teams would buy a league like the CFL or UFL but it has to be made profitable, thus meaning it runs in the offseason rather than during to avoid competition.
    Also it would be great for those “bust” players to show why they were considered good and allow development of young guys not ready to start. Then of course the details of the handling of the NFL d league would come into question. And coaches as well.

  15. I always thought that this is what the practice squads were for. Teams have a separate roster, and guys get called up. Regardless, a D-League WOULD be profitable, NFL Europe didn’t work because Europeans could give two $**ts about football (cough London, cough) But a Spring League In AMERICA with 16 teams (two pro teams per little guy to split costs) playing a 10 game season with games on NFL Network and 1-2 per week on the big Networks? That would print money.

    As for the whole “NFL is still racist” tripe, two black coaches just lost their jobs in the last 3 years, so until last Sunday the ratio was higher. And last I checked nearly 40% of players were black. Racist indeed…..

  16. The NCAA would never allow the NFL to have a true alternative to college football as a path to the NFL for players. The whole myth of college education for elite athletes is used to fund a massive system of profits for schools, networks, and coaches. Players of course receive no direct financial benefit, risk injury, and in most cases, do not actually receive an education. Their classes meet minimum requirements and they receive all the “help” they need to remain “academically eligible”. Imagine if a high school kid could play/work in a league with full time coaching, with a focus on skills, fitness and nutrition without the mirage of the classroom – nope, not gonna happen.

  17. Too much talent out there doesn’t get a fair shot. A lot of kids don’t know anything else but football and hit the streets and have legal problems. We’ve seen it all over. This would only help the NFL and struggling athletes looking to make a comeback. Heck, I wouldn’t mind even some older retired players. I’ll watch Jeff George at age 50 throw the ball again, wouldn’t you? lol

  18. Yeah they obviously need a developmental league just look at all the rookies who come in and struggle for years….College football is the minors. Must be another slow news day

  19. Here’s what I’ve proposed before: the league has an eight-team spring-summer schedule. The eight-team league would be composed of one team from each divsion. “The NFC North Knights” as an example. The teams would supply players from their practice and injured reserve squads(cleared to play) along with free agents of all types. Coaching staffs could be selected from candidates of all types: former NFL coaches, college coaches of all levels, etc. looking for some exposure. The league would play up to 10 games with a championship. The games could be rotated through the home stadiums of the teams in each division, with one team serving as the ‘host’ city. As an example, Minnesota could be the host city and play at the MetroDump, then rotate games to Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit.
    The teams wouldn’t like it, as it would take players away from off-season programs, but isn’t it better to have people play than watch or be practice dummies?
    The reason the NFL doesn’t want it is cost. But for the fans, it breaks up the longest off-season of any of the major pro sports, and if it can develop players, why not?

  20. I love the idea. I have always rooted for leagues like the UFL,NFL Europe, CFL and even XFL to succeed.

    A developmental league in the spring would be great. There are so many talented football players and coaches without jobs. A business model of placing teams in non NFL markets would be great testing tools for potential expansion down the road.

    I would love to see an 8 team league in markets like LA, San Antonio, Portland etc, Maybe the developmental league could be the return/testing ground for franchises in London and Toronto.

  21. The biggest reason for NOT having a developmental league or being affiliated in any way is: MORE CONCUSSIONS AND INJURIES = MORE LAW SUITS.

    Like someone else said, the NFL is already getting this free from the college ranks, free of any liability. Also, if a player can’t learn a new system when they’re 21-24, it’s less likely they can learn one when they’re 28. Unless both amataur and pro level utilizes the same system, which will then be counter productive since the coaches can’t develop their own system.

  22. Great idea! A developmental league for minority coaches. Perhaps look at the ratios of non minority to minority and reverse it… We could do that with the players also. And while they are at it, use all female refs!
    That being said, great idea, just think it should be about the most qualified candidates and athletes regardless of color of skin or gender…

  23. There are 32 teams with 53 rosters spots each. That equates to 1696 players in the NFL. The people who are talented enough are already there or will get their opportunity. A developemental league would give average players false hope that they will one day make it to the NFL when they need to get on with their life and get a real job. Its sad when someone falls short of their dreams but thats reality.

  24. There are actually plans to revive the USFL as a spring league in 2014 with the intent of being a minor league and not a direct competitor. I just ran across this within the last week. A quick internet search can yield you more info, including some of the former NFL players that are involved.

  25. I like the idea. An 8-team league (with each team supplied players by 4 NFL teams), 2 divisions, 10 games and a championship, played March-May. Place the 8 teams in cities that don’t have any major pro teams but have a decent college stadium (Syracuse, Waco and Little Rock come to mind). Of course, these players won’t be paid very much, so it wouldn’t be that hard to keep the league from losing money.

    As much as we all love football, we would watch.

  26. The CFL has never been stronger than it is now here in Canada. Perfect time for the NFL to partner up and make the CFL its developmental league.

  27. An official developmental league won’t happen. The NCAA would fight it and the NFLPA would make CBA demands that would make the venture unprofitable. The age/durability issues mean that only a small percentage of players would ever “get called up” to the NFL.

  28. This is a dream that will not happen. The about of money and resources involved plus the need for a market that does not exist make it a task near impossible to accomplish. The league tried Europe and failed. That market had money and willing fans but the product was so inferior even the Euro’s understood that there is only one NFL. If you want to develop better players make them attend class in college. If you want better Refs have them work the training camps.

  29. Those saying that the NCAA is the development league are not correct. There is a time limit (5 years or so) and then they’re done at age 22-23. They’re still in their prime physically and athletically. That’s why a development league is needed. The league would provide another avenue for those players, uh, less academically inclined and stop making a mockery of some Universities as academic institutions *cough* SEC *cough* as they admit players barely able to read (See Claiborne, Morris).

  30. Great idea, Mike. Why don’t you approach NBC to partner with the NFL? I’m sure they’d want to jump on board immediately. LOL.

    The UFL and New USFL have already approached the NFL, and got nowhere (at least, so far). Maybe if the UFL hadn’t lost so much money (admittedly $120M in its first three years and no word on how much more this past season), somebody would follow through.

  31. Also a good place to try things like rule changes and new safety measures – like leather helmets.


    You had me…..and then you lost me.

  32. Here’s an idea… start a developmental league, and repeal the restrictions on when people can come into the league. If the NCAA gets pissed, ask them how serious they really are about that “student-athlete” thing. You’d think they’d love a chance to get rid of the players only using their schools as a pipeline to the NFL.

    I wonder if the USFL and UFL might consider an evevtual merger?

  33. I think a “developmental” NFL Spring league should be different from the NCAA in that it is not strictly younger players. An NFL D-league should have a mix of younger players that could not make NFL rosters and older players that also got squeezed off of NFL rosters. The reason being, younger players can learn more from playing with and against veterans (not just other younger players).

  34. The ideal scenario might be a 4 team division in the United States and a 4 team division in Europe, with the #1 seed from each division playing in a championship game.

    The World League of American Football (which later became NFL Europe) suffered a significant decline in attendance when the NFL removed American teams from the league. Europeans seemed much more interested in the league when European teams were playing American teams.

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