I got a text this morning from a friend who used to run a CFL personnel department (Ken Moll, who’s written in this space a few times before). It started this way:
“Happy for this kid Chris Matthews (for Seattle). I brought him in to Winnipeg (from Arena ball, played at Kentucky). Also, I see where the Steelers signed a safety/LB (Ian Wild) who played at Mercyhurst, cut by the Bills out of college but can play . . . Given that there is no feeder-type league for the NFL, I believe the Canadian league (with the right person) needs more attention. Just a thought.”
Let me first say that I think Ken’s right. I think the CFL and AFL deserve more attention. But I always have people asking me about why there’s no feeder league for the NFL akin to the old NFL Europe model.
There are two reasons. No. 1, as I’ve discussed in this space previously, one could argue that the NFL has the best feeder system in the league in NCAA football, and it doesn’t cost them a cent. But the other issue is cost and the economy of finding and developing sleepers.
The NFL has almost unlimited resources, it’s true, but I still don’t think they’re excited about losing money. Let’s say they started some kind of feeder league with eight teams, just to keep things balanced, and they kept them all in Northeast markets, just to keep travel simple. By the time they rostered 45 players, paid a staff, covered travel and stadium costs and the other miscellaneous expenses, I think it would cost $500,000 to run each team, and I think that number is very conservative. So $4 million, at least, to run a feeder league.
So what would they net? That’s something we could argue. I think the results wouldn’t be a lot different from what they’re getting. Every March, NFL teams weigh, measure, time, etc., about 3,000 players at their pro days. Around 250 are drafted in April and about the same are signed as undrafted free agents, so let’s say 2,500 are turned into street free agents. The best of those players fan out to the AFL, CFL, and in some instances European leagues. At the most, maybe 15 of those players that didn’t make it into camps wind up back in the league and on 53-man rosters. That’s one half of one percent of the players that worked out for NFL scouts at pro days.
Also, keep in mind that the players that take the long road to the NFL are not Kurt Warners, or even as skilled as Chris Matthews. They’re usually one step above the practice squad. So the question becomes, how much does the NFL want to spend in order to find the 52nd or 53rd man on 10-15 NFL teams, annually? And keep in mind that Warner was really not a failure of the system, but of the Packers; he went to camp with the team when it had Brett Favre, Mark Brunell and even Ty Detmer on the roster. Eventually, his performance in the AFL got him an NFL chance without the league having to step in and create a league for him.
I think it would be great if there’s a minor league for the NFL; it’s incredibly fun when players like Matthews play a big role in a big game after toiling in obscurity for a long time. I just think the economics of such a league do not work.