News and views on all things American Football from a fans perspective

 D is for Development

In 1989 NFL owners voted unanimously to create the World League of American Football (WLAF), generally thought of as the brainchild of Paul Tagliabue. It was a league designed to develop players for the NFL and featured teams in Canada and Europe (the London Monarchs, Frankfurt Galaxy and Barcelona Dragons), as well as the Orlando Thunder who played in a lime green uniform that divided opinion as much as the league itself. That being said, it’s also the one that I remember most. The league helped develop players like Scott Mitchell, the quarterback who went on to play in the NFL for a number of teams.But it only lasted two years in that format (1991 and 1992), before being shut down because it wasn’t making money.

However the league was not dead and resurfaced in 1995. The reduced six teams format was made up of teams only in Europe. With the idea being that American fans were unwilling to pay to watch players that couldn’t cut it in the NFL. It was, for a long time, the only chance most European fans had of watching professional football at a good level. In 1998 it became known as NFL Europe. In this new European format it developed several players that went on to have successful NFL careers, including two possible Hall of Fame players, St Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals QB Kurt Warner and Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri.

The League’s last season came in 2007 but the writing was always on the wall once the Scottish Claymores left in 2004. Then teams started moving around on what seemed like a yearly basis. It was a mixed blessing for European fans as they no longer had franchises they could call their own but it led to the creation of the ‘International Series’ in 2007 when the Miami Dolphins hosted the New York Giants at London’s Wembley Stadium.

So why the brief history lesson? Rumours recently surfaced that the NFL is looking to create a new developmental league. Only yesterday Pro Football Rumors suggested that the league was inevitable for a number of reasons:

Development of talent – it would allow players that possess the physical skills to succeed, but need to improve in the mental aspects to play in a less intense environment. How many times have we seen physically gifted players flame out of the league because they were so used to getting by on their physical skills alone in college. Now, more so than ever before, the NFL is a “win now” league. Teams don’t take time to develop players. Look at the number of rookie quarterbacks that play before they’re ready. Gone are the days when the likes of Aaron Rodgers played back up for three years. Whilst this is especially pertinent to quarterbacks it would also benefit linemen significantly. The nuances of line play can take time to develop.

New equipment and rule changes – As well as developing new players a developmental league could trial new technology. Perhaps if there had been a developmental league then pylon cams and technology to check the placement of the ball would already be in place. With less pressure on the NFL to think about marketability and protecting their brand, the leagues could push the envelope in terms of both technology and rule changes.

Coaching – Like most Eagles fans I was ecstatic when the Eagles signed Oregon head coach Chip Kelly to take over from Andy Reid. Kelly’s offences had been blowing teams away in college football. Two seasons later showed that he was not ready for the NFL. His offensive schemes were limited (to the point defensive players were reportedly calling out the Eagles plays pre-snap). Some coaches excel in college but simply aren’t ready for the NFL. Before Kelly it was Steve Spurrier in Washington. Building a pro team is significantly different from building and running a college team and a developmental league would allow potential coaches to develop their understanding.

International talent – since the start of the season we’ve teased Sky’s Neil Reynolds over his shameless pushing of the player some still believe has the first names ‘British Born’; Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi. Jokes aside a developmental league would allow players like German league star Moritz Boehringer and Lawrence Okoye, a childhood rugby star and London Olympics discuss thrower, to learn the game in a professional capacity.

One potential sticking point for U.K. fans (and indeed all European fans) would be the possible impact on the International Series. The NFL are rumored to be changing all International Series games to a start time that aligns with the early games in the US. It’s a move I think could have a negative effect on attendance numbers. Getting home from Wembley after a game that finishes at nine in the evening is a big ask for those that have work the next day. Especially when NFL games are now so readily viewable compared to a few years ago.

Would any developmental league impact or endanger the International Series in the U.K.?

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