Roger Goodell and the NFL pulled the plug a couple of years ago on NFL Europe. It was losing a ton of money.
The impact has been felt around the league ever since as teams no longer can send players to exotic locales like Cologne and Amsterdam to let them develop a little further before making another run at the active roster.
Worse, NFL teams have limits on their practice squads meaning that fewer players are under contract to the team who could help out later.
At the owner’s meetings, Goodell has gone on record that he would like to create another developmental league for these young players who aren’t quite ready for primetime.
Perhaps the league and their extremely wealthy owners have discussed this idea and spit balled a few ideas. But before they do, I want to throw a proposal at them – a true minor league system. Here’s how it would work:
A Farm System
In MLB, every team has a farm system that runs at least three levels deep from A ball to AAA ball. Teams are spread across the country and filled out with players who can work their way up through the ranks. The NFL wouldn’t need to go that deep but one additional layer would be a huge help.
Why worry with only a handful of teams made up of a mixture of players from every team in the NFL? Give each of the big league teams its own minor league team. Fill out your roster on your big league team and then option all other players to the minor league team.
Location, Location, Location
The NFL has been so adamant about promoting the game outside of the US that they have forgotten where it was born in the first place – the US. Europe is no place for a developmental league.
The players are too far away making travel for team scouts a nightmare taking them away from their other scouting duties. Plus, the players have to feel as if they’ve been banished to Siberia to play the game.
Solution: every NFL team would operate a minor league team in their stadium. Hear me out.
The logistics can easily be worked out but office space can be had while the minor league team is using the visitors locker room. The coaches and trainers would be allowed to work but on the opposite side of the building as the big club.
This also means that the NFL club would only have to be on the hook for the operation of one facility as opposed to two (one here and one elsewhere like say, Europe). The grounds crew would mantain the field for both teams.
Why does the NFL feel it necessary to have a developmental league that plays every single game and its championship prior to the start of the NFL season? They should realize that any player who has played in all the games for his minor league team, especially if they made it to the championship game, has already played far too many games to be able to endure another full season.
Coming to the big club to play a second full season will mean more physical wear and tear. A training camp after completing a full season is hard on anyone’s body. How many knees will be swollen with these guys when they get called up from Frankfurt to join their NFL team?
Solution: Play the minor league season concurrent with the NFL season. The minor league team would begin play the same week the NFL team begins. They would play a schedule resembling the one that the big club is playing. (Let’s say the Panthers NFL team hosted the Falcons on Sunday. The Panthers minor league team would travel to play the Falcons the same week in a game to be played between Thursday and Saturday.)
This allows the field at each stadium to be used once each week and gives the grounds crew time to repair any damage. And before everybody jumps on the idea that the field would get torn up consider that bowl games are regularly played in NFL stadiums only days prior to an NFL game and the field holds up fine.
Jets and Giants
Here is a logistics problem. Both of these teams share a stadium. An alternate location will have to be acquired unless the field at the Meadowlands can be properly maintained with the minor league team playing there a few days before the big league clubs play.
Money is tight in this economy, sure. So, team up with others. There is already a league in development today. They don’t plan to pluck players from NFL rosters but instead to sign players who don’t make it in the NFL.
Quit being so high and mighty and join forces with this league, the former Arena League owners and even the NCAA and develop a league that isn’t so hard on the wallet or the budgets of the NFL owners.
Players would be paid much like the guys in the now-defunt XFL were paid. The real money is in winning the league championship. Besides, most minor league baseball players today below AAA are usually working another job in the offseason anyway. These football players could do the same.
Keeping the players’ salaries low would help cut costs for the big league team and would help to provide the incentive to play on to the championship game.
The minor league team’s roster would look a lot like the one employed by the NFL team. Basically, 53 men would make up the team. The major difference is that the practice squad with the big team would be made up of a select number of guys from the minor league roster.
There is also a great opportunity here to have practices that allowed for scrimmages. The minor league team could even run the scouting plays for the opposition for a day or two to prepare the big league team.
Limits would apply to the NFL team likely keeping them to the 45-53 man gameday limits. However, in the event of injuries, players could be called up from the minor league team who would be much more prepared to step in and play.
Injuries and Rehab
Because NFL players get hurt often, they could workout with their team and even attempt a few plays in live action in the minors to help get them back into football playing shape.
The minor league system would operate on a ten-game schedule consurrent with the NFL team. After week ten, a playoff would begin. This would last only through two rounds and a championship weekend. The total of a thirteen week season (including playoffs) would then give NFL teams the chance to fill out their big league rosters with talent from their minor league team.
The stretch run in the NFL could become more interesting with the addition of some new blood from the minor league team.
Trading in the NFL is entirely too rare. But with a minor league system, players from the minors could be thrown into deals all the time to help push through a trade of big-league players.
A hot prospect can be the clincher in MLB trades. We see it all the time. It would be a big help in the NFL.
Coaching will, without question, improve. Coaches at the minor league level would receive incredibly helpful on-the-job training and could be groomed to be moved up to the NFL especially as position coaches or coordinators.
Simple concept, fellas. The minor league team would wear the same uniforms as the NFL team. That’s one less logo to develop and simply a little more laundry to to. Just sew a patch on the shoulder of the minor league unis of their league’s logo.
Make this an inexpensive night out for the family. Tickets shouldn’t cost over $10. Yes, ten bucks. It could even be general admission if you so desire. Give back to the fans and let them see some football with your minor league team for as little as possible.
It’s time to quit fooling around and develop a minor league system. The NFL has tried to be too cute. Just do this and help the game we all love to grow and improve.