When I first came to Chicago in 2001 to be the Scouting Director for the Chicago Bears, each club had the NFL-run World League of American Football (later renamed NFL Europe), in which to send young players for development. It was a costly proposition for the NFL, which owned and ran the league on another continent.
When the NFL disbanded NFL Europe in 2007, it was still operating under the old NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, which allowed for more OTAs in the spring and double-session practices in training camp. Practices during the regular season could also be full-padded, full contact- practices with contact whenever the coaches wanted.
When the current CBA was created in 2011, it drastically changed how coaches could run the offseason, training camp and regular season, as far as number of practices and how practices could be constructed. The new rules were put in place to benefit veteran players and hopefully extend careers.
Though the purpose of the agreement was good in theory, the new rules eliminated the ability to develop many players at several positions.
In today’s NFL game, plenty of skill players (wide receivers, defensive backs, running backs and some linebackers) still get plenty of practice time in which to hone their skills. But young offensive and defensive linemen, as well as young backup quarterbacks, don’t. Why? With the limit on contact, the linemen don’t get nearly enough “live” practice time in which to practice technique, and a young quarterback who is not starting gets virtually no reps in practice, unless it is with the “scout” team.
The NFL shut down NFL Europe because it just wasn’t a cost-effective way to develop players. To run a very costly operation ultimately to develop just a few players was not a good bottom line idea for NFL owners. Basically, the NFL wasn’t going to pay for a league that was going to benefit so few players at such a huge cost.
Enter the new Alliance of American Football, which isn't owned by the NFL, so there is no cost for operation to NFL owners. After watching two weeks of AAF games, it has become obvious to me that this is the perfect venue in which to send young offensive and defensive linemen, as well as young, backup quarterbacks, to help develop their skills.
What the first two weeks of AAF play has shown us is that, though entertaining, the QB play and the line play needs to vastly improve. There just isn’t enough talent at certain positions for the new spring league to sustain good play.
If in future seasons, the NFL and the AAF could come to a player allotment agreement in which the NFL sends young players to the upstart league, it could be a win-win for both leagues. It would benefit the NFL because young linemen who got minimal play time and reps as backups could work on their skills in a live setting. There is no better way for an offensive or defensive lineman to improve his skill set than live reps. It would help the quarterbacks because they would get the chance to play in NFL-style offenses against NFL-style defenses in live situations. Can you think of a better way in which to improve?
An agreement helps the AAF because they are getting better players at key positions on teams, which in turn leads to potentially better games. More well-played games helps with the marketing of the AAF league, which in turn leads to better attendance. In theory, everyone wins.
The NFL owners liked the idea of a developmental league, but they didn’t like the cost factor. Having a player-allotment agreement with the AAF takes care of that worry. Obviously, there would have to be other agreements involved between the two leagues, but I don’t see it as a huge problem. The AAF might want the NFL to pay part of the salaries of the “loaned” players. I don’t see that as a deal breaker.
An agreement would be the next step in a natural relationship. Most executives in the AAF have NFL experience, and the NFL is already televising AAF games on its network. This would become a natural progression of events that benefits all involved. It would basically be a new version of NFL Europe without the exorbitant cost to NFL owners. Let’s get it done.