NFL Minor Leagues: What Needs to Be Done to Help Develop Talent in the NFL
National Basketball Association.
Major League Baseball.
National Hockey League.
What do these entities have that the National Football League doesn't? A minor-league system to help develop prospects and players.
The NFL at one time did have an offseason program called World League/NFL Europe/NFL Europa that allowed players who were fringe-roster types the shot to go and get some real game-time experience. Sometimes, even draft picks would be sent over after their rookie seasons sitting on the bench.
However, there is still not a true NFL minor-league system that has ever been in place. If the NFL wants to be a truly financially productive entity, they would look into a farm system that would allow call-ups and a season that ran very similar to baseball's minor leagues.
This slideshow will explore the idea of what would be considered an intelligent solution for an NFL developmental league.
Isn't College Football Essentially a Minor League?
One argument against the minor leagues in football is the idea that college football essentially does what the developmental leagues do for the NBA, NHL and MLB, which is develop true talent.
The issue with this idea is in assuming college football coaches run pro-style schemes and truly try to prepare their talent to be NFL players, instead of chasing the BCS title and major bowls.
College football also has the issue that the players are focused on school and social lives, and football can sometimes take a back seat.
With a true minor-league system, the college ranks would be a place for players to simply develop physically and enjoy their lives.
How Many Teams Would Work?
The next question here is what the right amount of teams would be.
Each NFL franchise having their own team would be way too much. And having four teams contribute just 10 players to one team would be too little.
The right amount of teams would be 16. The idea here would be that each farm team would be representing both an AFC team and an NFC team, and would be split regionally as close to possible.
How Do You Split Up the Talent?
Another question is how would you split up the talent for NFL squads?
The biggest idea is that the AFC team could contribute 22 players, the NFC team would contribute another 22 players and then the minor-league team itself would contribute another nine to create a full 53-player roster.
The idea is that each team could send an entire roster of players and create teams with some depth to them. By contributing initial depth, the teams would be able bring in another nine players as an unofficial tryout of players who could contribute to the NFL rosters eventually.
What Happens to Practice Squads?
Brent Grimes. Miles Austin. Victor Cruz.
Those are just three players off the top of my head who have developed into stars after sitting on a practice squad for at least a year. The practice squad would go the way of the dinosaur, however. The minor leagues could provide something that practice squads don't: player protection.
You see players get signed off other teams' practice squads every year, and NFL teams hate and love it at the same time. But the NFL could provide its teams with 22 players who would be protected as minor leaguers for at least a two-year window.
After that two-year span, the old practice-squad rules would apply and you could sign a player from any minor-league team as long as he has two years of minor-league service or more and is moved to the NFL team's 53-man roster.
This sounds a bit complicated of course, but it would allow a team to draft a guy in the fifth or sixth round and give him some real game experience before elevating him to a starting role in the NFL. It would even also allow the true development of second- and third-round players at log-jammed positions.
Where/What Would They Be and Who Would They Represent?
The idea only works if an NFC team and an AFC team are paired together.
The idea here would be to take them as close to regionally connected as possible, while also placing the minor-league team in an area with strong football culture that will provide an instantly strong fanbase.
The next 16 slides are about how they could be separated, where they could be located and what the mascots would be.
Team 1: Birmingham, Alabama
Minor-League Town: Birmingham, Alabama
Population: 212,000 people with metro of 1,128,000 people
AFC Team: Tennessee Titans
NFC Team: Atlanta Falcons
Possible Nicknames: Magicians, Thunderbolts, Stallions
Birmingham has always been a town included in any minor-league attempt from the USFL and CFL. With a reasonably large population and a huge love of football, it would not be surprising to see the area with the last three NCAA national titles (Auburn with one and Alabama with two) be rewarded an NFL minor-league team.
Atlanta and Tennessee are the two most logical teams since they are so close to Birmingham. Atlanta and Tennessee both draft and sign players heavily from the local areas, and the Birmingham team could be a top team in the minors.
Team 2: Charleston, South Carolina
Minor-League Town: Charleston, South Carolina
Population: 120,000 people with metro of 659,000 people
AFC Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
NFC Team: Carolina Panthers
Possible Nicknames: Swampfoxes, Man of War, Battery
Charleston is a budding metropolis, and with Boeing expanding their Dreamliner production there, there is an expected population boom upwards of 1,000,000 people in the greater Charleston, SC area. Already, almost every single person in Charleston loves football.
Carolina and Jacksonville make sense as partners in crime due to their shared history of entering the league at the same time and having similar team personalities. They are also somewhat closely located and Charleston is a good midpoint, as it is only three-and-a-half hours away from both Jacksonville and Charlotte.
Team 3: Des Moines, Iowa
Minor-League Town: Des Moines, Iowa
Population: 203,000 people with metro of 570,000 people
AFC Team: Indianapolis Colts
NFC Team: Chicago Bears
Possible Nicknames: Barnstormers, Hawkeyes, Energy
Iowa is a great football state and has always supported their arena and college teams. The Hawkeyes and Cyclones consistently produce strong attendance, and the Iowa area has always been ripe with budding NFL prospects.
By pairing the Bears and the Colts, you have two Midwestern teams playing in a Midwestern town. Iowa has contingents of both Bears and Colts fans already, and this is just a logical fit.
Team 4: Hartford, Connecticut
Minor-League Town: Hartford, Connecticut
Population: 125,000 people with metro of 1,212,000 people
AFC Team: New England Patriots
NFC Team: Philadelphia Eagles
Possible Nicknames: Whalers, Colonials, Huskies
Hartford has one of the largest metropolitan areas in the entire country. Connecticut has a love for football, and especially the Patriots. So this one is pretty easy when it comes to a good match for the NFL minors.
Team 5: Las Vegas, Nevada
Minor-League Town: Las Vegas, Nevada
Population: 584,000 people with a metro of 1,951,000 people
AFC Team: Denver Broncos
NFC Team: Arizona Cardinals
Possible Nicknames: Cagefighters, Gamblers, Locomotives
Las Vegas is the U.S. gamblers' Mecca. That's the only issue of concern that would come about in discussion of a Vegas squad. Outside of that, though, you have one of the more rabid sports fanbases out there, and could easily have enough support to field a team.
Tourists would love seeing the players from their hometowns playing on their Vegas vacations. Arizona and Denver make sense, as they are two of the teams that are the closest to Sin City.
Team 6: Los Angeles, California
Minor-League Town: Los Angeles, California
Population: 3,793,000 people with metro of 15,250,000 people
AFC Team: San Diego Chargers
NFC Team: San Francisco 49ers
Possible Nicknames: Avengers, Fame, Sharks
Los Angeles hasn't had a football team since the Rams and Raiders left in the '90s. It is the second biggest market in the country, and the possibility of a gorgeous new stadium that a team would love to play in.
San Diego and San Francisco are both good fits for Los Angeles, as the Chargers started out in Los Angeles and the 49ers are the only California NFC team.
Team 7: Louisville, Kentucky
Minor-League Town: Louisville, Kentucky
Population: 741,000 people with metro of 1,308,000 people
AFC Team: Cincinnati Bengals
NFC Team: New Orleans Saints
Possible Nicknames: Sluggers, Bourbons, Colonels
Louisville has always been a huge football town, and now it's one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country and could easily support a team.
The Saints wound up with the short end of the stick in my draw for how I would pair the teams together in this situation, but the Bengals are definitely a logical fit.
Team 8: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Minor-League Town: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Population: 1,650,000 people with metro of 3,824,000 people
AFC Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
NFC Team: Green Bay Packers
Possible Nicknames: Canadiens, Alouettes, Blitz
Canada loves football. You'll hear that again later. They have their own league. Sure Canadian football is quite the different caliber, but they love the game nonetheless. An NFL minor-league team would be widely successful in Canada, as the CFL is essentially that anyway.
This could also open the door for more NFL talent to come from the Canadian colleges. All this being said, take two of the best cold-weather franchises and send their players to one of the coldest cities in the world to train for their frosty games in Pittsburgh and Green Bay.
Team 9: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Minor-League Town: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Population: 580,000 people with metro of 1,281,000 people
AFC Team: Kansas City Chiefs
NFC Team: St. Louis Rams
Possible Nicknames: Wranglers, Oilers, Rebels
They have an NBA franchise, so why wouldn't they be able to host an NFL developmental squad? Oklahoma City tends to have great attendance for the OKC Thunder and minor-league baseball franchises, and with the amount of talent from Oklahoma in the NFL, it would only help attendance.
Kansas City and St. Louis make a lot of sense as teams to pair off. They are only miles apart and would be able to mold their players together.
Team 10: Omaha, Nebraska
Minor-League Town: Omaha, Nebraska
Population: 409,000 people with metro of 877,000 people
AFC Team: Cleveland Browns
NFC Team: Minnesota Vikings
Possible Nicknames: Cornhuskers, Nighthawks, Buffalos
Nebraska has always been a huge football hotbed, and Omaha is bigger than some of the other cities already listed. Cleveland and Minnesota get put together, as they are both Midwestern teams and the Omaha location is in the center of the country.
Team 11: Orlando, FL
Minor-League Town: Orlando, Florida
Population: 238,000 people with metro of 2,134,000 people
AFC Team: Miami Dolphins
NFC Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Possible Nicknames: Predators, Blazers, Tuskers
Miami and Tampa in Orlando. It's just logical when you think about one of the best places to set up the minor-league franchise.
It's a quick drive for either team and would afford the fans of the pro teams the ability to go see the games in Orlando on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and then their pro teams on Sundays.
Team 12: Portland, Oregon
Minor-League Town: Portland, Oregon
Population: 584,000 people with metro of 2,260,000 people
AFC Team: Oakland Raiders
NFC Team: Seattle Seahawks
Possible Nicknames: Beavers, Ducks, Platipi
Another spot that follows in the idea that if you have enough support for an NBA franchise and there is a love of college football, you have enough support to field a minor-league football team and have fun with it.
Oakland and Seattle make the best sense for the team in Portland, as it would put the two closest NFL franchises within a short drive's time. The Raiders and Seahawks have been splitting the Oregon fanbase for a while as it is.
Team 13: San Antonio, Texas
Minor-League Town: San Antonio, Texas
Population: 1,327,000 people with metro of 2,195,000 people
AFC Team: Houston Texans
NFC Team: Dallas Cowboys
Possible Nicknames: Gunslingers, Riders, Steers
Much like Miami and Tampa in Orlando, giving Houston and Dallas a team in San Antonio just makes sense. San Antonio is such a good fit for an NFL franchise, that it was being considered by the Saints as a possible relocation spot until Hurricane Katrina hit.
Team 14: Staten Island, New York
Minor-League Town: Staten Island, New York
Population: 469,000 people, with New York City metro nearby with over 19,000,000 people
AFC Team: New York Jets
NFC Team: New York Giants
Possible Nicknames: Bulldogs, Yankees, Knights
The New York teams pull a page from the Yankees playbook by just taking a team and throwing them in nearby Staten Island.
When your minor-league players are in the same city as your pro team, you have a good competitive advantage. The Jets and Giants already share a stadium, they might as well share a minor-league franchise.
Team 15: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Minor-League Town: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Population: 2,615,000 people with metro of 5,583,000 people
AFC Team: Buffalo Bills
NFC Team: Detroit Lions
Possible Nicknames: Argonauts, Maple Leafs, Xtreme
Detroit is only a short drive away from Windsor, Canada, and Buffalo has already played a game or two in Toronto already. So why not have them combine and have a developmental squad in Canada?
Toronto is one of the biggest cities in North America and is a top CFL spot already. They also have major teams in the other three major sports of baseball, basketball and hockey.
Team 16: Virginia Beach, Virginia
Minor-League Town: Virginia Beach, Virginia
Population: 438,000 people with metro of 1,672,000 people
AFC Team: Baltimore Ravens
NFC Team: Washington Redskins
Possible Nicknames: Destroyers, Governors, Piranhas
Virginia Beach is another spot on the East Coast that has been clamoring for the NFL, but they will settle for a minor-league team.
Washington and Baltimore are a legitimate combination, as they are in close proximity and tend to both prefer a physical smash-mouth style.
Schedule and Divisions
The NFL currently plays a 16-game, 17-week schedule. The minor-league teams would play an 11-game, 12-week schedule that begins at the same time as the NFL schedule in September, and ends the last week of November.
The NFL teams would be allowed a five-man roster exemption to have five minor leaguers come and practice with the squad, with the option of having them play in the fourth quarter of any game. This would also be an extension of the active roster in December, to a 51-man active roster from the current 46.
The divisions would be set up as follows:
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Staten Island, New York
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Charleston, South Carolina
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Des Moines, Iowa
Las Vegas, Nevada
Los Angeles, California
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
San Antonio, Texas
And the 11 games would be scheduled as follows:
Home-and-home series with the other three division teams for six of the 11 games.
Two games against against two teams from the opposing division in the same conference.
Three interconference games on a rotational basis for the last three games.
Day They Play and Television Coverage
When you look into football, there is the question of which day you would have all the minor-league games play, and how they would be televised. Let's take a look at the weekly schedule.
Sunday: Reserved for NFL
Monday: Reserved for NFL
Thursday: Some NFL and some college games
Saturday: College football day.
So here's the thought—have every minor-league game played on Tuesday night on the regional Fox Sports networks, and have them much like college football is shown regionally.
Also, have a featured game every Wednesday night on the NFL Network for the fans to get a look at their favorite team's future stars.
While this is just the framework for the NFL developmental league, a lot of it is borrowed from other leagues' systems. This could have some adverse side effects, like possibly ending the Arena Football League (again), but since it is played in a different time of year, it could also allow Arena Football players to play year-round.
This would also have an adverse effect on the Canadian Football League, which thrives off the fringe NFL talent that is just missing out on the big time. But the framework is here. The teams. The schedule.
All that's needed is for Roger Goodell and the NFL owners to listen and agree that a minor-league system would not just be fun, but profitable.