It was recently announced that the USFL is going to be resurrected as a developmental league for the NFL. This is very important as it could potentially change the way the league works for the good, or it could be a failed experiment. I think having a D-league similar to that of the NBA would be very useful in the development of players who otherwise would never have made it in the NFL. I am going to explore this idea further and see how it can eventually develop and how it can be as successful as the NBA D-league is. So, let's begin
A little history on the USFL
The USFL, or the United States Football League, was first created in 1983 as a spring/summer league to serve fans while the NFL was in it's offseason. It had moderate success coming out, with quite a few talented college players opting for the USFL over the NFL, but it was plagued with franchise instability, with many franchises moving around and some merging with each other. This made it difficult for a fanbase to form for this league, and it eventually ceased operations. A major part of the reason was because the USFL decided that, instead of being NFL offseason entertainment for fans, they would be able to directly compete with the NFL, and tried to move to the traditional Autumn/WInter season. Alongside this decision, they decided to sue the NFL for breaking anti-trust laws and monopoly laws. The NFL had control over all television contracts, and the USFL staked their future on the lawsuit. The USFL had decided to suspend operations for the 1986 season, deciding to come back in 1987, because they were deep in debt and believed that the lawsuit could save them. The USFL won in a Pyrrhic victory, being awarded only $3, instead of the $1.7 billion they were expecting. They were unable to keep going, an evetually folded. It was announced recently that the USFL was going to rise again as a spring/summer league for the development of young NFL players.
How the new USFL will work
The new USFL will play in the Spring/Summer months and will have a completely different business plan. The USFL players will have open access to NFL teams, and they will be able to sign with any NFL team they choose to after the USFL season ends. It will have a 14 game season in 8 cities, Oklahoma City, Portland, San Antonio/Austin, Omaha, Birmingham, Memphis and Raliegh/Durham. It will provide jobs for young players who are on the bubble of an NFL roster. It will also focus more on regional players, holding regional drafts. To explain this, I am going to use the example of Darron Thomas, former Oregon QB who is an undrafted free agent that hasn't received offers from any teams. If the USFL were active this year, he would have been able to sign a one year contract with the USFL (all contracts are signed to the USFL, not specific teams) and would be assigned to the local team for his college, in this case Portland. He would start for Portland this year, trying to refine his skills and prove himself to NFL scouts. After this season, he would be free to sign a contract with any NFL team that pursues him. If no NFL team signs him, he would go back to Portland and play there until either he is signed by an NFL team, replaced or retired. In this way, local talents will have a team to go to if they can't make it right away in the NFL.
How I envision the USFL eventually becoming
I think the USFL business plan as it is would be very good, but the league has the potential to grow even more, and I envision it eventually replacing the outdated practice squad model. Practice squad players never get playing time in games and can't gain the experience they need, but the USFL would provide them that. I think the USFL eventually replaces the practice squad, allowing NFL teams to assign the players they would otherwise put on the practice squad on a USFL roster. This is the layout I would eventually imagine. There are 8 USFL teams, each in their own city. Each of those teams will serve the NFL teams of one of the NFL divisions. So, going into more specifics, let's imagine the AFC East was served by the Memphis team. In the layout I imagine, each USFL team will have a 53 man roster, with no starters or backups, but players just rotating in and out, sort of like in high school football. Each NFL team in the AFC East would be allowed to assign 10 players to the Memphis team. So, for example, let's say the Miami Dolphins choose to assign Pat Devlin, Les Brown, Jerome Messam, Jeff Fuller, RIshard Mathews, Kheeston Randall, Isaako Aaitui, Dustin Waldron, Kelcie McCray and Jacquies Smith to the Memphis team. These players would still be signed to contracts with the Dolphins, and the Phins would pay their salaries, but they would play for Memphis during the Spring/Summer season, and then come back to Miami for training camp. In the same way, the Jets, Patriots and Bills would send ten players to Memphis. That would make 40 of the 53 players. Out of the remaining 13, 10 would be UDFAs that didn't make it in the NFL, like Darron Thomas, and 3 would be NFL veterans who are willing to play a mentorship role, and know that they are too old to play in the NFL anymore. This would be players like Jason Taylor or Chad Pennington, who would be players in name only, but would really be mentors and extra coaches on the field. In this way, the rosters of the other 7 USFL teams would be constructed
How this would affect the Dolphins
This would tremendously benefit the Dolphins. Currently, we have no idea how well our practice squad players are progressing in actual games. In the USFL, players like Pat Devlin would be out there playing, and we, as fans, would have a better indicator of how they are progressing. In addition, this would allow players who would otherwise not have made it to have a second chance. And we all know how good Ireland is with acorns. In this way, the USFL being built up in this way would tremendously benefit the Dolphins in that talent which would otherwise have gone undeveloped or undiscovered would be brought out and given a shot in this new league