Skip to content

Jordan Kendall | The NFL needs a true minor league system

Aug. 13—Four of the five major American sports all have a minor league or developmental league directly affiliated with the top league. The NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS all have a way for prospects to develop and get game experience over riding the bench on a top level team. The only exception is football. The NFL hasn’t had a directly affiliated minor league in 15 years, and I think it’s time for that to change.

In the early 90s and into the 2000s, the NFL had NFL Europe. It started as a development league consisting of teams in the US and Europe; however, by 2005 every team was in Europe. Since it was directly affiliated with the NFL, teams could assign players to NFL Europe teams.

The league produced several notable NFL players — most notably Adam Vinatieri. He retired as the NFL’s all-time leading scorer and is arguably the greatest kicker of all-time. Some other notable names include Kurt Warner, Brent Grimes and Jake Delhomme. Warner is a Hall of Fame quarterback, Grimes was a four-time Pro Bowler and Delhomme made one Pro Bowl and led the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl.

There have been several development leagues to pop up in the past few years. Two of the most notable are the XFL and USFL. I believe either of those two have the foundation in place to support a true minor league system for the NFL. They have the teams, stadiums, coaches and broadcast deals to succeed.

I think it makes a lot of sense for one or both of these leagues to partner with the NFL as a true minor league system. The NFL has more than enough money to fund these leagues. There’s also more than enough players who would want to play in a minor league to the NFL. It could also help expand the game to areas of America that don’t have a major sports team nearby.

My solution to make everyone happy would be an official partnership with at least one development league. The NFL and XFL announced in April an exclusive partnership in player development. The XFL and NFL Alumni Academy scout the top prospects and invite them to train at the NFL Alumni Academy. After completing the training they are guaranteed an opt-in contract with the XFL.

I think this is great for the game of football. There are plenty of talented football players — especially from smaller schools who get overlooked. This is the perfect opportunity for them to develop and pursue their dream of playing in the NFL. While this is a great first step, there’s still more the NFL can do.

My idea for a true minor league would be similar to baseball. I’ll use the XFL as an example since they already have an official partnership with the NFL. The XFL would be the Triple-A equivalent of minor league football. It’s the top prospects who aren’t deemed ready for the NFL but are very close.

The XFL has eight teams, the NFL has eight divisions. I would assign one NFL division to one XFL team. That team would be affiliated with the four NFL teams in the assigned division. For example, the Houston Roughnecks would be affiliated with the NFC South. The New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons could all send players to the Roughnecks. They could also call up players from the Roughnecks as needed.

The NFL only has three preseason games. For the players fighting to make the team, that’s not a lot of opportunities to prove their worth. Many talented players who are capable of playing in the NFL get cut every year. Most of them never make it back. Most NFL aspirations end earlier than I believe they should. Having a true minor league would give one more chance for these players to pursue their dreams.

Jordan Kendall is a Sports Writer for the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @JKendallCTN.