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A Real Spring Football League Idea - Ez Like Sunday Morning 7/02/17

Sure Would Be Nice To Have Real Football This Time Of Year, Is There A Way To Do It?

NFL: Cleveland Browns-Minicamp
Darius Hillary guards against Mario Alford during minicamp.
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

This is the time of the year where there’s not really a great deal to talk about with respect to our favorite sporting pastime (sorry, baseball). Not that I don’t love the Indians and steady keep track of each game/series’ progress, but football has always been the first love, and by a big ‘ol country mile.

Teams just finished up OTA’s and Mini Camp and at this point there’s no real activity to get excited about until training camp gets started later this month. While it’s not that far away, wouldn't it be cool to have some real, tangible football to watch and study before the actual NFL season starts?

Perhaps a better way to couch the question is: if there were a way to create a supplemental league that provided fans something they wanted, could be profitable for the team/league, gave coaches more tools to evaluate/train their players and ultimately increase the overall quality of the game, would that be something worth doing?

I submit that these objectives are not at odds with each other and further, could all be accomplished in beautiful symmetry, provided we can agree on a few things.


NFL: Cleveland Browns-Minicamp
Rashard Higgins & Najee Murray run a drill during minicamp. While neither of these guys are starters, wouldn’t a competition between players of this caliber be better than the CFL or Arena League?
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Now, this is going to be a fairly complex proposal, and I’m going to admit right up front that I don’t have every answer to every potential issue. Or more accurately: I’m not interested in answering every single question - I’m thinking about a basic framework within which we can debate the merits of the individual piece-parts, because quite frankly I don’t care about some of the details. I’ll explain what I mean as I go along but suffice it to say, this is a work in progress, and the intent here is really to introduce a concept and see if a conversation can thus be sparked.

There are lots of reasons, aside and apart from just massive demand, why a scheme such as I am going to describe would be beneficial to the players, the coaches, and ultimately the game. Probably the most powerful (and appropriately, the place to start) is how it can positively influence the existing quarterback paradigm in the league.

All are aware that there is no more important position - probably in sports, but definitely in football, than Quarterback. What may not be as readily seen is the disparity in game-processing done at the modern college level vs. that which is necessary to be successful in the league. This is a gap that appears to have widened over the years as college teams run more spread offenses that do not translate to the pro game. The Wall Street Journal wrote a lengthy piece on this subject two years ago, though good, smart people can disagree with the assessment, as for example Rufio has with me in the past.

Whether you think it’s a problem or you don’t, would you disagree with the proposition that they would still benefit on average if they had more reps? One issue facing all teams (particularly) in this regard is that with the modern CBA there exists a scarcity of practice reps for really ALL positions, but nowhere is it more injurious from a developmental standpoint than at the QB position, where it’s already incredibly difficult to scout.

League Structure

So the plan thus is pretty basic: a full 32 team league that plays 12 season games, followed by a single playoff round, followed by a League Title Game (or some other such milquetoast billing). 14 total weeks (no byes) and this spans the week after the draft up until the week before the Hall of fame game.

This where a great deal of the negotiations can be had and I’m simply supplying an example more so than advocating specifically for this alignment. I think there are any number of combinations that would work just swimmingly, but the basic idea behind the new division formations is simply proximity. I definitely welcome other ways people would rather see the divisions done.

I also would think that teams playing would be called something different than thier normal monikers and wouldn't look like their “major league” NFL squad. I think there’s opportunities here where NFL cities could vote on team names for their new minor-league clubs, for example. Or not (again, just spit-balling in much of this territory) and our team could be called the “Cleveland Bulldogs” (as there once was a Cleveland Football team called the “Bulldogs” many decades ago), or whatever. Or they could be totally new - that’s part of the fun of this; getting some of the creative people involved in designing new teams.

Branding opportunities abound, as whole new identities can evolve in the cities of 2020’s America that can take on all different forms. I would really, really love suggestions of what we could rebrand these minor-league clubs as, like The Draw Play has done here (and yes I provided that link twice, it’s THAT good).

Games are played at the regular venue (except in circumstances where an adjacent venue may be worthwhile for any number of reasons) and, since it’s never done on these days: Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Unfortunately that does compete with Major League Baseball but there’s enough time where perhaps they can strategicerally schedule so that common city-teams don’t have home games on the same day/nights as their pro counterparts. I can see a coming-together on this concept, perhaps even some collaboration.

The divisions are really just for scheduling purposes. The teams with the top four records (same applicable tie-breakers) go to the one-week playoffs, and then those two teams player each other for the title game. The following week, the Hall-of-fame game in Canton and the league schedule rolls on.

In effect, it’s like starting the preseason three and a half months early, with the starters only really showing up in weeks fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen. A great deal more time for coaches (and fans) to watch the guys on the bottom of the roster and see if there are diamonds in the rough to be mined.

Team Composition

NFL: Cleveland Browns-Minicamp
Matthew Dayes (37) and Danny Vitale (40) run a drill during recently completed minicamp
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s the basic idea: right after the draft teams fill their rosters out to 90 players. When cut-downs occur after the final preseason game, it goes down to 53. I suggest we therefore comprise these teams of 47 players, and their eligibility depends on all kinds of factors which can be negotiated during the next CBA. It’s meant to be for the, for lack of a better descriptor: ‘bottom-47’ of the roster. Essentially, the players you don’t really expect to make the club.

UDFA’s are automatically eligible, and vested players would have to agree to it and there’d be some kind of built in process. Obviously, a coach isn’t going to want a regular starter out there chancing injury in the spring league. At the same time, a veteran who may be on the bubble may elect to go in order to showcase that he’s got the stuff to be retained (a bad example in our case might be a guy like Tank Carder).

There could be clause where players drafted prior to the, Idk - sixth round, are not eligible without consent (for which a process is laid out). There could be a special dispensation for quarterbacks, as reps for the position are more valuable there than anywhere else.

Cleveland Bulldawgs 2017 Depth Chart

POS. 1st String 2nd String 3rd String
POS. 1st String 2nd String 3rd String
QB DeShone Kizer Kevin Hogan
RB Matt Dayes Terrance Magee
RB Danny Vitale
WR Rannell Hall James Wright Richard Mullaney
WR Mario Alford Josh Boyce Jordan Leslie
TE Randall Telfer J.P. Holtz Taylor McNamara
LT Matt McCants
LG Chris Barker
C Fabiano Ikard Reiter
RG Marcus Martin
RT Zach Sterup
DE Jamal Marcus Ladell Fleming
DT Jamie Meder
DT Xavier Cooper Trevon Coley
DE Karter Schult
OLB B.J. Bello Deon King
MLB Dominique Alexander Kenneth Olugbode
OLB* James Burgess
CB Channing Stribling Trey Caldwell Najee Murray
CB Marcus Caldwell Alvin Hill
FS Kai Nacua Justin Currie
SS Ibraheim Campbell J.D. Harmon Darius Hillary
K/P Cody Parkey/Zane Gonzalez
LS Charley Hughlett
*base 4-3 assumed

As you can see, there are all kinds of “bubble-ish” type players on this squad. Most of the guys on here probably won’t make the roster, however some definitely will. DeShone Kizer is very conspicuous with his presence, and example of what I was referring to earlier with regard to there being a special dispensation for QB’s. That’s one of the biggest reasons for doing it - to give crucially important reps to young signal-callers, allowing them to transition more smoothly from the college to the pro game.

You see a mixture of vets trying to stabilize a position but mostly young guys trying to earn a spot on the roster. For those, it provides a much longer period for evaluation, and more chances to prove that they belong. For the coaches, it provides more film and makes cut-down day all the more exciting. For the league, it provides several new revenue streams while providing a way for it’s most important position to improve, thus improving the quality of the game itself. Of course, for we fans, it’s real, tangible football with NFL players all playing their hearts out for a shot at the real deal.

If you like the idea - get the ball rolling by passing this along to whomever you think needs to see it. If not, well then, thanks for reading anyway.

Happy Sunday.


What Do You Think, Worthy Idea?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    Enthusiastically Yes!
    (110 votes)
  • 29%
    Not sure, too many questions
    (73 votes)
  • 5%
    Whatever, I probably won’t get into it until the real season starts
    (13 votes)
  • 19%
    This is ridiculous and will not/should not be even taken into serious consideration
    (48 votes)
244 votes total Vote Now