WASHINGTON — For the first time since NFL Europe ceased operation in 2007, the NFL is reportedly making moves to create a developmental league for non-roster veterans to compete:
Since that report was broken by Pat Kirwin on NFL Sirius Radio, other NFL insiders have argued whether or not this is actually breaking news. Others have argued the details of the report:
Murmurs and rumors have circulated since early last offseason that NFL executives were coming around to the idea of a new developmental league, taking back value that it is currently losing to the NCAA. Those reports increased during league meetings over the summer, then bubbled to the surface more recently during league meetings in December:
The justification is easy from a talent perspective; players like Kurt Warner, Jake Delhomme, Jon Kitna, Dante Hall, Brad Johnson, James Harrison and Adam Vinatieri all went through the NFL Europe league. Coaching prospects, game officials and NFL rule changes can also get a test run in an NFL setting long before making it to prime time.
NFL Europe also served the purpose of increasing international interest in the sport, which has since centered around the annual slate of games in London.
The NFL has made no bones about wanting to increase its presence internationally, and the development league could be a way of achieving that again without risk of further saturating the football appetite in the U.S.
But the league owners have shown a consistent unwillingness to invest in any product that does not contribute to bottom line results. The major reason why NFL Europe shut down for the second and final time in 2007 is because of sinking interest, dwindling teams and a loss of nearly $30 million per season.
Divided among 32 owners, this is less than $1 million per season.
The difference this time around is that the NFL may choose a hands-off approach, coordinating marketing and TV contracts but not investing in the league directly. Instead, a product like The Spring League, located at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, might be the answer.
According to The Spring League’s website:
The Spring League was created in early 2016 to serve as an instructional league and developmental platform for professional football talent. All teams conduct practices and “live” exhibition games that are played in accordance to NFL rules.
Our teaching staffs are composed exclusively of individuals with NFL coaching experience. On field practices and games are supplemented with classroom instruction and film review.
The league intends to serve as a developmental program for the NFL, Canadian Football League and Arena Football League. That would be welcome news for some in the NFL coaching ranks, like New York Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey:
But not everyone is so sure. New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton offered this hot take when asked earlier this month:
“I’m not in favor of the developmental league,” he told the media. “I think you’re going to see an increased number of practice squad players. The developmental league I think is just a way for more [NFL] Network programming.”
While certainly a cynical approach, Payton has a point: the NFL has a goal of world domination. If a developmental league helps to that end, it will be considered. If it doesn’t make financial and logistical sense, it is unlikely to get off the ground.