Remember The Spring League? It was the successor of the Fall Experimental Football League, both the brainchild of CEO Brian Woods. The Spring League recently wrapped up its inaugural ‘season’, so to speak, just a handful of games divided into four games, but the early results with respect to the NFL were positive, and Woods says that the League is already without a doubt locked up to continue in 2018.
While I do not believe the Pittsburgh Steelers were among any of the teams who actually signed players from the League or invited them to their rookie minicamps, several of them did, most notably the Panthers, who are bringing in about half a dozen players into the spring to give them a good look.
According to Kevin Seifert of ESPN, no fewer than 10 NFL teams, as well as a couple of CFL teams, sent scouts out to The Spring League’s practices and games in order to evaluate players, which is, I think, pretty significant. He writes that another 20 teams—no doubt divided between the NFL and CFL—requested video footage of games and practice in order to evaluate players.
“We were pleased with the NFL turnout for sure”, Woods told Seifert. “It was overwhelming and we were happy to have it. I was talking as it wrapped up with some of our coaches, and we feel like this league is in position to help quarterbacks as much as anything, and we all know that’s an ongoing priority for the NFL”.
While noting that “the talent level…probably fell short of what NFL teams envision for an established developmental league”, the fact of the matter is that more than around 15 percent of the 105 players involved in the league ended up signing a contract or receiving a minicamp invitation to earn a spot on a 90-man roster.
Panthers pro scouting director Mark Koncz said that he would “much rather see younger guys” rather than players like Ben Tate, who was one of the headliners of the League, saying that the ideal developmental league player was somebody who had been to a training camp but didn’t make the team due to scheme fits. Somebody like Jordan Dangerfield immediately springs to mind.
Still, Woods insists that the League provides valuable opportunities for players such as Tate, who last played for the Steelers in the playoffs in the 2015 season for one game. He was described as the highlight of the entire venture and Woods believes that he showed teams that he still has tread left on the tires.
The odds of unearthing a Pro Bowler from this league are slim at best, one might say, but the NFL has toyed with the idea of operating some sort of developmental league for a long time without doing anything about it since they shut down NFL Europe, which helped further the career of James Harrison, who played for the Rhein Fire.