Little bit of breaking news from Jim Fassel. "Don't be surprised if there was a very good spring league opening next year in the NFL"— SiriusXM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) July 14, 2015
The NFL hasn't been able to create a viable developmental league, but that doesn't stop them from trying. Jim Fassel, the former head coach of the New York Giants, is the perfect person to discuss the potential of a spring football league.
In recent years, there have been two real attempts to create a secondary football league. The United Football League (UFL, 2009-2012) targeted smaller markets with the hope of generating interest in regions without professional football teams. The Fall Experimental Football League (FXFL, 2014) hoped to become a developmental league for the NFL, similar to the NBA's D-League, where fringe players could continue to gain live action experience. Both leagues played in the fall, alongside the NFL.
Fassel coached for the Las Vegas Locomotives of the UFL for four seasons, winning three league championships, and losing in the finals of the fourth. It wouldn't be surprising if he played a role in a spring developmental league.
The UFL had teams in Las Vegas, Sacramento, Virginia Beach, and Omaha. The first three cities rank 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in FiveThirtyEight's list of football-hungry cities. This was a clear attempt to take advantage of the potential NFL lockout and develop a real foothold as a competitor.
The FXFL had teams in Boston, New York, and Omaha, because apparently Omaha really wants a football team. The developmental league has an interesting strategy as there will be four new teams this upcoming fall, which strips the "franchise" mentality from the teams. The FXFL creates deals with local minor league baseball teams so the overhead costs of maintaining a stadium are slim.
A spring league should borrow concepts from both leagues. They should offer the developmental mentality, and allow teams to have partial control over the teams. If, say, there are eight development teams, then four teams across different divisions and conferences should have to contribute funding and coaching.
This would effectively expand the practice squad roster of teams and allow veterans a chance to show their worth prior to the start of training camps. It would create an interactive veteran combine of sorts.
The FXFL featured plenty of former Patriots, from guard Jon Halapio to wide receiver Jeremy Gallon, so there is definitely interest by the players trying to achieve their dreams. If the league plays during a time of the year that these players could matriculate to training camps, instead of midseason, there would likely be a more successful bridge between leagues.
Let's say this league takes place from mid-May to mid-June, a slow period for most offseasons. If teams could also send recent draft picks or undrafted players or camp bodies to the developmental teams they run, they'll have better tape on each player. The NFL will stay in the focus during an empty part of the year. Personally, I'd love to watch the fringe players get a chance outside of the fourth quarter of the first two preseason games. It'd be better than baseball (sorry Red Sox).
I think the developmental league is a great idea, but it needs the support of NFL owners to get off the ground. Practice squad players get a minimum of $6,300 per week. FXFL players get $1,000 per week. It might honestly be cheaper to co-fund a developmental league than expand the practice squad, especially if the league gets players already under team contracts.
So why not? It could be fun.