They've fought off all challengers, several times sending them to the graveyard of dead sports leagues, but this time the NFL might be willing to work with the newest professional football league, rather than crush it.
It could turn into its minor league.
|Dennis Green: Working his way back toward the NFL sidelines in the UFL? (Getty Images)|
Say hello to the United Football League.
"We're not going after the star NFL players, but we're going to take guys they let go," said UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue. "Players who are cut in the summer can come play with us."
The UFL will begin play this fall with four teams: Orlando, Las Vegas, San Francisco and New York-Hartford. Each team will play six games.
I, for one, like it. The more football we have, the better it is. But from a player development standpoint, it makes sense for the NFL to embrace it. NFL Europe, which the NFL owned, helped find Kurt Warner and Jake Delhomme.
This league can do that -- only now the NFL isn't footing the bill.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said at last week's league meetings that he has discussed the new league with Huyghue. He didn't say the league would be used as a minor league in part because the NFL would prefer a "developmental" league play in the spring.
But times are tough. If the UFL is footing the bill, it might be worth a look.
The new league's games will be played Thursday and Friday nights in the fall, which some might say is foolish. But Huyghue said the fall is the only time to play.
"That's when people want their football," he said.
It helps that the league has a television contract with Versus. That's money. That's exposure. That should get their lines up in Vegas, which is of utmost importance to gaining a fan base.
The league also has four owners willing to lose money for three years before seeing the league make a go of it, according to sources. That means it can be patient for now.
"We understand that the economy isn't good right now," Huyghue said. "But in some ways that's good for us. We're launching on a small scale and we get good prices on flights, and hotels and other things. The costs of a startup like this would normally be three or four times what it is now."
I can hear the skeptics screaming already: Just what we need, another goofy professional football league.
This won't be another XFL, where the game was just part of the show. The plan is for serious football.
Each team will have a $20 million salary cap. The rosters will be stocked with players cut in training camps by NFL teams.
Quarterbacks who sign with the UFL will earn $200,000 for six games. Other position players who are cut will earn $100,000 with those with no NFL camp experience earning $50,000.
The first two options are better money than if a player opts to sign as a practice-squad player for an NFL team.
Three of the four coaches have been NFL head coaches: Jim Haslett (Orlando), Jim Fassel (Las Vegas) and Dennis Green (San Francisco). The fourth is long-time NFL defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell.
Haslett said he decided to join the league when he surprisingly had no other options in the NFL. Haslett was the interim coach in St. Louis last season after the Rams fired Scott Linehan, but he was not retained after the season. But as he waited his fate, the defensive coordinator job in Green Bay, which was offered to him, was filled.
After that, he couldn't even land a position job. That could be because he'd be perceived as a threat on some staffs as a former head coach.
Whatever the reason, Haslett found himself out of work. So when Huyghue called, he listened, thought about it, and then decided to join the new league.
"Hey, I'm a coach," Haslett said. "I like to coach. This gives me that chance. And I can spend more time with my family since we don't get started until after teams make their cuts."
The UFL could be a landing spot for Michael Vick. If the NFL suspends Vick for a season once he's completed his legal obligations for his role in the dog-fighting disaster, Vick could opt to play in the UFL.
That would give the league some instant name recognition and taking on a player like Vick would be a good thing, whereas the NFL might suffer more of a public-relations nightmare for doing so.
Since Vick is technically the property of the Atlanta Falcons, his UFL rights would belong to Orlando. The league has set up a dispersal system for NFL players that are cut based on divisions.
Orlando gets first priority on the AFC and NFC South cuts. New York has the AFC and NFC East, Las Vegas the two North divisions and San Francisco the two West divisions.
Once players are signed, the league will take all four teams to Arizona to hold training camp. After that, the games will begin in October with the championship game to be played around Thanksgiving Day.
"There are a lot of players just looking for a chance," Huyghue said. "Take some of the backup quarterbacks. Who knows if they got a chance to play what they could become? Maybe there's a Kurt Warner out there, somebody who hasn't been developed yet."
And that's why it's worth the NFL's time to talk about this becoming its minor league.