clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The NFL would be smart to develop a “minor league” system

Not into “offseason” professional football? There’s an easy way for that to change...

St Louis Battlehawks v San Antonio Brahmas Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

If you are like me, you don’t care much for these professional football leagues which take place during the NFL offseason. Trust me, I love the game of football, but nothing ever seems to equate to the NFL. It’s the best of the best in every way possible.

While the other leagues, like the XFL and USFL, will promote unique rule changes and different approaches to the game in hopes of making it more intriguing for fans, they ultimately fall flat.

But what if there was a way to make football fans be more involved? Let me be more specific, what if there was a way to make NFL fans more interested in these other leagues? There is a way, if the NFL were willing to branch out and give it a shot.

While it would be a costly endeavor, the NFL purchasing, or coming to terms on an agreement with, these other leagues to develop a “minor league” system for the NFL would make these leagues far more interesting. When you think about it, the NFL is the only professional sports league in America which doesn’t have a farm system. The NFL’s farm system is college football, or so they say, but that is far from a finished product.

Consider the opportunities which could come from this premise. Since this is a Pittsburgh Steelers website, let’s focus on the professional teams who call Pittsburgh home.

In the NHL, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ farm system is as follows:

ECHL: Wheeling Nailers
AHL: Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins
NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins

In MLB, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system is as follows:

Rookie League: FCL Pirates
Single-A: Bradenton Marauders
High-A: Greensboro Grasshoppers
Double A: Altoona Curve
Triple A: Indianapolis Indians
MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates

For a second, imagine if the NFL followed suit and used the XFL and/or USFL as their own minor league system.

XFL: San Antonio Brahmas
USFL: Pittsburgh Maulers
NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers

Having this type of approach would create a large shift in the entire process NFL fans have grown to enjoy for decades. It would change everything from the NFL Draft all the way down to how teams handle their rosters.

Let’s go down that slippery slope for a bit...

If this were the avenue both the NFL and these other professional leagues chose, it would drastically change the NFL Draft. The draft would likely go back to the way it once was, having well more than 10 rounds. Why? You would want to limit the number of players who are deemed undrafted free agents. It isn’t as if those players wouldn’t exist, but teams would want to select more players knowing they will have time to develop in their system.

On top of the expansion of the draft, players would be able to not just improve within a system, but be promoted within. If the Steelers draft a player who is slated to start with the XFL’s Brahmas, the Steelers’ XFL affiliate, he could eventually be promoted to the Steelers USFL affiliate, the Maulers.

What this would create is a pipeline of talent for fans of the NFL to gauge and watch develop. A way for fans to keep an eye on players who could be considered up-and-coming. While I have no interest in the XFL or USFL, if it meant watching a drafted player working his way up to the now have my interest.

Take a look at some of the players who could have found their way into the Steelers’ pipeline throughout the past few years:

  • Tuzar Skipper
  • Quincy Roche
  • Ola Adeniyi
  • Jamir Jones
  • Buddy Johnson

The list of players like the above is lengthy, and while many of these players have worked their way back to the Steelers throughout their careers, the process could have looked vastly different if they had a system in place for them to go and develop. Instead of being given their out-right release, they would have been sent to one of the affiliated leagues to continue to grow and develop.

NFL Free Agency would continue to be a thing, and players could absolutely be traded to new teams/organizations, but the way teams draft and develop will change dramatically.

Would this ever be a real thing? I doubt it. The NFL likely wouldn’t want to associate themselves with these upstart leagues, and they likely feel the “system” they’ve created doesn’t need fixed. I’m not saying it needs fixed either, but if they were to try and thing outside the box, using these leagues to help develop talent could be a great way for organizations to see long term success, but also make professional football something every NFL fan would want to watch all year long.

What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of the 2023 NFL offseason.