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NFL Open to Development League


Recent comments from commissioner Roger Goodell indicate a willingness to add an NFL development league, but many uncertainties remain. 

There have been some calls for the NFL to look into adding a development league, which it has not truly had since NFL Europa folded in 2007. Some of the advantages are apparent, such as providing development space for players that fall just short of the NFL, additional business and on-field opportunities for NFL franchises, and the ability to reach markets that, even if they are too small for regular season NFL action, still warrant the league’s attention.

However, Goodell’s comments made the league’s discussions sound more preliminary than concrete. “We’ve talked about it,” he said. “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.”

That does not really provide a clear framework for how the league would look, when it would play, and how it would operate. In the end, the decision over whether to add a development league is likely to come down to the numbers, and the question of whether NFL owners view the venture as a worthy pursuit. More from Pro Football Talk:

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?

Though Goodell’s comments certainly present the possibility of a development league, the timeline and model remain major questions for the NFL. For now it is certainly a topic that is up for consideration, but it does not seem to be an imminent possibility.

Image from under Creative Commons license.

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August Publications