Major League Baseball and the NHL have the minor leagues, Basketball has the developmental league, and the NFL—an eight player practice squad.
For an NFL rookie, coming into the NFL and making an impact right away has become more important that ever. If they don’t do that, it is almost impossible for them to ever make it.
It’s tough in the BIG LEAGUE
In today’s NFL it is more difficult than ever for rookies to come out and succeed right away, and it is even more impossible to predict which rookies will succeed. NFL general managers can only hope that the player that they drafted in the first round that they put so much stock in, pans out, and they can only hope that the player that they drafted in round seven makes some sort of impact, or makes the roster.
The transition from college to the NFL is very difficult and the competition level is significantly different. Expecting these players to come out and produce right away is simply unfair, but it is the truth.
In the four major American sports leagues, the NHL, MLB, and NBA all have some sort of league for young players to develop, even tennis and golf have amateur and qualifying events for young players to gain experience.
Stagnate Practice Squads
Meanwhile, the NFL has an eight player practice squad, and those eight players are lucky to see any live game action besides the little action that they might get in the meaningless four game preseason.
Sure they could go up to Canada and try their luck there, but the chances of getting back to the NFL, a league they’ve dreamed about playing for since playing in their backyard growing up, are a long-shot at best.
The average career length for a player in the NFL, is only 3.5 years, the shortest among the four major sports. The NBA average career length is 4.8 years, MLB is 5.6 years, and NHL is 5.5 years.
Part of that is effects of the physicality of the NFL game, but even then, the NHL has a longer career length and some might consider it more physically demanding than football. The biggest reason however is that once a player, more specifically, a young player, gets cut from an NFL roster, it is almost impossible to get back on a roster with limited roster space that teams have to deal with.
The Failure of NFL Europa
Yes, the NFL has tried with NFL Europa, which was a complete disaster and failed due lack of profit and not being able to produce players. Super Bowl quarterbacks Jake Delhomme and Kurt Warner played in NFL Europa at one point in their careers, but those were about the only two names the NFL could hang its hat on.
However, something based in the states, where there is already a lot of interest, a new formatted league could work. Not only would it be beneficial for young players, but the NFL would be able test ideas like getting rid of the kickoff or extra point in this league and could test ideas to make the league safer. The NFL could also use this league to develop officials and teams could use it to develop young coaches to gain more experience.
Nothing like the REAL THING
With the current NFL practice squad, these young players just don’t develop as they would playing live games. Every year there are injuries and a team is forced to play a third string guy that sometimes hasn’t seen any live game action since the preseason and hasn’t played a meaningful game since college.
The options for a developmental league are limitless, and the league could benefit a lot from it.
The NFL is the only major sport in the United States without some sort of formatted developmental league which is an injustice to its young players. The NFL would be doing the league, players, coaches, officials, and fans a lot of good by creating a developmental league system.