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Momentum builds for developmental league


For more than a decade, the NFL had a developmental league based in Europe. High costs and sputtering interest eventually resulted in a shutdown of the business that had as many name changes as Sean Combs.

But a push continues to bring back minor league football. New NFL V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent tells the Associated Press that his recent remarks supporting such a venture struck a chord.

I got more than 100 proposals,” Vincent said. “I think that shows it is worth a look.”

It’s definitely worth more than a look. It’s worth action. There are too many players, coaches, executives, and officials with potential and too few opportunities to let them grow and develop. With owners having no patience, coaches have little or no margin for error. They need to win now, not to undertake long-term projects that would bear fruit for perhaps the next coach of the team.

Or, in Cleveland, the next coach after that.

The most important position has the greatest need for development, given the dearth of developed players to throw the football around the field.

“Quarterbacks often don’t come to you ready-made, particularly with the way college football is played now with so many spread offenses and half-field reads and so forth,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told the AP.

He’s right. And with limited chances to make quarterbacks into NFL players, they need a place to get reps at a level close to the NFL -- from film study to game planning to practice sessions focused on facing a certain type of defense to actually executing the game plan and making adjustments during the game itself.

For players like Jake Delhomme (pictured), the absence of an opportunity to play in a minor league probably would have resulted in no chance to play in the NFL.

If the NFL ever considers expansion to fill the vacant markets from L.A. to London and in between or beyond, the league needs more competent quarterbacks. A developmental league would be the best, and perhaps only, way to get them.

But what would be the best way to stage a developmental league? NFL consultant Marc Ganis believes the model works best from March to July. Former Browns G.M. and current Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage believes a small league confined to a specific region of the country makes the most sense.

“I do envision some sort of developmental league, based maybe in Florida or Texas or Arizona,” Savage said. “Anywhere from four to six teams; I don’t think more than eight.”

The idea would be to keep costs low by reducing travel, and to generate revenue by selling the rights to one of the NFL’s current broadcast partners.

Regardless of the details, it’s an idea that is overdue. Currently, it seems inevitable that the league will be doing something to help further develop folks who eventually will contribute at the next level of the sport.