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Former Packers LB Paris Lenon Is Proof of the Benefits of NFL Developmental League

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Former Packers LB Paris Lenon Is Proof of the Benefits of NFL Developmental League

Denver Broncos linebacker Paris Lenon. Photo by Brian Carriveau of CheeseheadTV.com.

JERSEY CITY, N.J.––Linebacker Paris Lenon, who's preparing to play in Super Bowl XLVIII this weekend as a member of the Denver Broncos, gets a fair amount of attention for being the last player from the XFL still actively employed in the NFL.

The XFL is notable for its professional wrestling flair, but it's Lenon's participation in another football league that's probably more to credit for his development as a player who's survived for 12 seasons in the NFL, now at 36 years old.

After leaving college, Lenon was cut by three NFL teams between 2000 and 2001, including the Packers, having failed to make a regular-season roster.

Then in 2001, Lenon received a second chance in Green Bay, being signed in the offseason and later allocated to the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe, where he honed his game and eventually would go on to earn a berth on the team's regular season 53-man roster for the first time of his career.

"Any time you step out on the field and you get an opportunity to play, you're going to get better," said Lennon, "or at least you should if you're going about it the right way, you should get better. And I think it just helped me improve as a player."

With a record 98 underclassmen declaring for the NFL draft in 2014 and the number growing seemingly every year, perhaps the NFL should take note of Lenon's remarkable achievement and the advantages a developmental league can provide.

NFL Europe went defunct in 2007 and with it went the opportunity for teams to provide game experience to players that aren't necessarily ready for prime time.

Sure, NFL Europe probably isn't the place to risk exposing a first round draft pick to injury, but it provided a breeding ground for the undrafted players and the types that need more seasoning before being trusted under the bright lights and microscope of an NFL regular season game.

"If they make the team, they don't need it," said Lenon. "But for guys who don't necessarily make the team right out of college, I think that having something like NFL Europe is great, a great way to gain experience and improve as a player."

The question here isn't whether Europe is the place for a football minor league of sorts. Rather, it's whether one should exist at all.

If proof is needed, Lenon could be Exhibit A why a developmental league should exist.

On a team decimated by injuries this season, Lenon has provided the perfect veteran influence for the Broncos, having taken over for Wesley Woodyard at middle linebacker late in the season and making eight total starts, including the playoffs.

Now it's Lenon who's passing down the lessons to the younger generation of players.

"He's a mentor," said second-year Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan, one of the better up-and-coming players on the team. "He's one of those grumpy guys. He plays all the time, and he helped me slow down a little bit. I'm used to being energetic, fly around, everything. But sometimes you've got to slow down.

"This game gets so fast, you get caught up in your mind. So you've got to be able to sit down, be a pro and just slow yourself down. He helped me with that."

Lenon played with the Packers from 2001 to 2005 and eventually left as a free agent, but he holds no ill will to the team that gave him his first crack at the NFL.

"I appreciate my time there," said Lenon. "It's a great organization. I enjoyed the time I spent there, but you just move on."

Move on Lenon has, not looking back.

The opportunity is now in front of him to win a Super Bowl, which would be his first. He'll be taking on the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, in a cold-weather environment he became used to in Green Bay.

But perhaps more importantly, it's Green Bay and the existence of an NFL developmental league that provided the opportunity for professional growth that led Lenon to have a chance to win a Super Bowl ring.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

Comments (18)

Katsuya's picture

Didn't Cullen Jenkins and Atari Bigby play in Europe as well, before making it onto the 53?

Evan's picture

Yep.

bomdad's picture

And Tramon. Draft and develop works when you can actually develop the players outside of the 53 and practice squad. No surprise that a few years after the NFL-E ended, the packers are more susceptible to draft busts.

HUMP's picture

lenon still stinks and is another reason seattle will bury denver!!

RC Packer Fan's picture

I wish there was a NFL developmental league. The thing I hated about NFL Europe was those players all played a season before playing in the NFL so the year they were in NFL Europe they basically couldn't offer anything to the teams they played for.

I really was one that was hoping the NFL would merge with the UFL and make that their developmental league.
I liked the idea of players playing during the NFL Season not prior to it.

I thought they could have done something similar to the NFL Europe, and each team is allowed to send 5 players (or whatever) to that league to be developed.

With the amount of practices teams are limited to, there isn't the time for players to be developed, and not a lot of time for players to get experience.

If you look at guys like Scott Tolzien. He looked good but he really needs is experience. That is what he is lacking. There are a lot of guys that could be really good players if they were given time to develop.
Just like Cullen Jenkins...

Hank Scorpio's picture

With the NCAA upset all about the players leaving early, I think the NFL should have a feeder league that by-passes the college "minor leagues". Why should kids that want to pursue a pro football career be forced into a system that enriches college athletic depts and not themselves?

8 teams that are not made up of players on loan from NFL teams but with independent rosters and an age limit of 18-25 years old. The NFL rules regarding player eligibility would remain as is, meaning players must stay in the Dev league until 3 years removed from HS graduation, when they become eligible for the draft. Anyone past that window would be treated like a street FA by the league.

Run the season in the fall, concurrently with the NFL. They could play games on Friday night so as to get the best shot as some kind of cable TV deal that makes the league self-sustaining.

Or something like that.

cLowNEY42's picture

Time to start talking about team names!

I'll start...

Asheville (NC) Green Hens

Why the Green Hens?

WHY NOT!!!???

Evan's picture

I've always loved the idea of a true NFL minor league system - just like MLB, where each team has its own developmental team that plays during the NFL season.

Not sure how it would work logistically, but there have to be enough out of work players/guys playing in local amateur leagues to fill out the rosters.

RC Packer Fan's picture

That is exactly what I was thinking as well...

My thought was there are so many guys on the streets with real talent. I mean Dujuan Harris was selling cars.

I would love to see something similar to how baseball does theirs.

I am willing to bet there are more then enough players to fill rosters. I mean look at how many players are at each teams training camp that end up getting cut.

I just would love to allow each team to be able to designate 5 (or whatever) players to play in the league.

The thing that to me killed the NFL Europe was that it was played before the NFL Season. I like the idea of the developmental league being played during the NFL Season.
I really thought the NFL could/should have worked out a deal with the UFL to allocate x amount of players to play on their teams.

Hank Scorpio's picture

Well, the fact that it was in Europe didn't help any either. They think football is an entirely different thing.

But I agree that the set up of NFL-E was flawed. It was used as a supplement to the offseason program instead of an alternative to the regular season. Guys would go over there and get too beat up for training camp. Which negated some of the value it provided.

Idahopacker's picture

I think that's a decent ideal but lets go with 16 teams(1 AFC-1 NFC team assigned to each and the farm team has 46 players - 2 players for each position per league team The Kicker and punter has to be agreed upon by the NFL teams

Arlo's picture

Why would any organization lose money (Europe or any developmental league) when you have (basically) a free system already in place (NCAA) ?

Unless the NCAA tightens access to its students (LOL) and limits the NFL, nothing will change.

It's all about da money.

Hank Scorpio's picture

You're right that it is all about the money. Without a reason to change, it won't.

IMO, the current set up exploits kids seeking a pro career that are either not interested in college or qualified for it. Even the ones that appreciate the barter of getting an education in exchange for playing football are getting a raw financial deal considering what major college football brings in. Such altruistic concerns will never triumph over the power of inertia and money in the current system.

However, the NCAA is making noise like they might start making scouting their players tougher on the NFL. They are ticked off about the high number of early declarations. It "hurts" the college game they say. What they mean is it hurts the bank account of college athletic depts. Maybe they will be happy with the fact that the NFL is making a show of concern about the 'problem', even if nothing is done. Because when it comes right down to it, the NCAA benefits far more from the current set up than the NFL. If kids had the option of playing for cash in a minor league and skipping the college thing, many would. And those athletic dept bank accounts would be hurt even more.

redlights's picture

Its called spreading the wealth around. The good football players bring in income to subsidize to some extent the nerds.

Hank Scorpio's picture

That certainly does help college athletic depts balance their budgets to have sports that attract little or no interest.

I just think high school kids should have a choice on whether they want to participate in subsidizing other sports as they pursue a career in the NFL.

Tarynfor12's picture

This Develop League would need to be for kids who cannot get into college due to financial or academic reasons.Those who are offered scholarships to college based more on they play than I.Q.s or even those who have the I.Q and ability should be held to play through their Junior years for that college.A monetary compensation could be awarded to them for such via the NFL standing behind education first policy which helps ensure the College still keeps its players and booster money flowing along with the other money making avenues already installed.The NFL should be required to give salary to the Develop program players via equal cost from every team with those players being drafted under a different pay scale than those from the NFL draft we have now.

redlights's picture

Everyone is trying to dance around the fact that you're advocating discrimination. I'll be the first to advocate the intent, but you'll end up having kids blatantly fail exams so that they aren't eligible for college and can go to Develop and earn money.

We hear these incredible stories like Driver and Lynch (?) with gang and drug neighborhood upbringings and marvel at their will and dedication. We can't fathom what its like and to what lengths future players would go to get into the pay teams versus the college teams. they know the odds are against them; playing with the big boys, injuries, etc will entice them to the smaller paycheck now instead of the chance at the big payday in 3 years. Of course the 3 year payday is only the rookie contract which is skewed against the players, to it would be 5 years for the big payday. If in fact it comes which is pretty slim odds.

Don't get me wrong, I think an avenue for players to develop would be good; but it needs to be done the right way, and I don;t know what that is.

Hank Scorpio's picture

I don't think a possible NFL D-league should or would only take players that colleges reject. My idea for such a league would be to leave the choice in the hands of the kid. He can play for money or an education. Just like in baseball. Some kids leave high school for the minor leagues and some go to college.

As I mentioned above, this idea has no hope of going anywhere until the NFL decides that college ball is no longer being a faithful partner in developing young players. If they ever do decide that, I have to think a big part of the goal would be to compete for high school players, not just taking the college rejects.

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