There’s a common belief that a developmental league would be good for football. But it definitely wouldn’t be good for all football players.
With the Alliance of American Football staking its survival on doing a deal to secure bottom-of-the-roster NFL players and with the NFL Players Association so far unwilling to do a deal that would allow that to happen, there’s an important question to consider as it relates to the finite nature of NFL rosters: Should the union help the new developmental leagues to develop current NFL players?
The NFL-NFLPA labor deal pays players based on seniority, with a higher minimum salary triggered by greater years of experience. The longer a player has played, the more expensive he becomes.
This creates a natural inclination for teams to skew younger, if they can justify entrusting a roster spot to someone with limited experience. A developmental league gives those inexperienced players live reps, making those players better (in theory) and in turn making it easier for NFL teams to justify rolling the dice with one of the 53 jobs on a player who has fewer years of NFL service and thus a lower price.
So if the NFL and the NFLPA agree to make players who have signed “futures” contracts available to developmental leagues like the AAF or the XFL and if those younger players indeed develop in developmental leagues, those younger, cheaper players may supplant older, more expensive ones.
Even though union dues aren’t based on a percentage of a player’s salary, it generally makes sense for the union to want teams to pay as much as possible to its players. Developmental leagues tend to cut against that dynamic, giving the NFLPA no real reason to support a system that makes it harder for established, proven players to fend off their inevitable replacement by a player whose youth allows him to move faster, jump higher, push harder, and basically perform the various requirements of the job better.
That’s not to say the NFLPA should work against developmental leagues. But the perception that developmental leagues are good for the NFL isn’t necessarily a reality for the NFLPA, since there will still be only 53 roster spots per team, no matter how many chances the players competing for those jobs have to develop their skills beyond the confines of NFL offseason workouts, preseason training camp, in-season practices, and game reps.