Packers president Mark Murphy created some headlines at his press conference following the team's annual shareholders meeting on Tuesday by saying he supported the elimination of two preseason football games and maintaining a 16-game regular season.
This comes more or less in response to the calls for more attention to health and safety of players in the NFL. With concussion lawsuits and allegations of bounties in the NFL, it's a topic that's not being taken lightly.
Over the past few seasons, there was a push for the elimination of two preseason games but adding two games to the regular season to make an 18-game schedule. It was an idea that appeared to be gaining some traction too.
Murphy became one of the few visible figures in the NFL to voice his disapproval of the 18-game proposal.
Getting rid of two preseason games, however, would come with a cost, a big one in the world of professional football. That's two less games, one home and one away, for teams to make money in the form of ticket sales, concessions, parking, etc. in addition to the money generated from television contracts.
It's going to be difficult to get both owners and players to get behind the elimination of two preseason games if it means less revenue and smaller contracts. Unless, of course, there's a way to replace that money.
I used to think that at some point, the NFL would follow the lead of MLB and create some sort of minor league in which each big-league team ran a farm team. Those thoughts, for all intents and purposes, are gone. And I definitely don't think there's a snowball's chance in hell that the NFL is ever going to be willing to outsource its player development to some upstart like the USFL or the UFL.
But I do think there's room for some sort of player development program in the NFL, and furthermore, I think there's a chance it could possibly defray the costs of losing two preseason games.
Instead of a baseball-esque minor league model, I can envision a version of the NBA's D-League (developmental league).
I'm sure this idea isn't exactly original, and what follows is more a stream-of-consciousness than a well-developed business plan, but imagine the following...
- The NFL Draft pushed up to March, maybe early April including additional rounds, which would only seem to make sense for the NFL to capitalize the immense popularity of the Draft.
- Shortly after the Draft, every NFL team puts together a D-League team made up of rookies and other young players with minimal NFL experience.
- Every team would play a four-game D-League season in their own home stadium, two home and two away. For a team like the Packers, these games would be played at Lambeau Field with players wearing Packers uniforms in roughly the May timeframe. Perhaps these games aren't sellouts and ticket prices are probably much lower, but I still think the interest would be high and it would help offset the loss of the preseason games. As for a team like Jacksonville, that's another story.
- If a team doesn't want to expose their high-round draft choices to potential injury, it's up to them. Or perhaps they play in a very limited basis.
- It could also serve as a way for coaching development. Imagine a guy like Edgar Bennett serving as the head coach of the Packers' D-League team.
- When the D-League is over, rosters are trimmed and those players join the team's offseason program with the rest of the veterans.
- For established veterans, they're playing in less games. And while rookies, might be playing slightly more, it's all in the name of development.
As I alluded to earlier, there's a million issues that would have to be ironed out for something like this to take place. But the idea is intriguing. Let your imagination run wild.
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