2019 Offseason Questions: Will AAF Eventually Become Official NFL Developmental League?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.

How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Will the NFL eventually adopt the AAF as a full-fledged developmental league?

It’s not often that we have much of excitement to talk about immediately following the Super Bowl—for one thing, the Steelers haven’t been in one since 2010—so forgive me for paying so much attention to the Alliance of American Football right now, but my interest goes beyond looking for something to write about.

While a developmental league is obviously not as financially lucrative as the NFL would like it to be—otherwise NFL Europe would still exist—I have always considered it something that is potentially very valuable.

Now, the NFL is throwing some of its weight behind the AAF, and they are working together in some ways. Obviously NFL Network is airing half of the league’s games, which is an impressive level of cooperation. There is also a clause in all AAF contracts that allow players to sign with an NFL team at any time, as players such as Josh Johnson and Garrett Grayson have already done.

But that doesn’t mean this is a full-fledged NFL developmental league the way NFL Europe was, which was populated by players controlled directly by NFL teams and loaned to NFL Europe franchises. The Steelers, for example, could send a young quarterback to the AAF to get some live game reps and the opportunity to develop on the field, while controlling his rights the entire time.

I’m not even sure if this is a future that the AAF wants (perhaps it is, and they are very open about the reality of their function as a developmental league), but the NFL will probably only become interested in such an idea if it proves itself viable.

I do think it has a better chance to succeed than NFL Europe does. For one thing—it’s in the US, where people actually like football. And the teams also hit some abandoned or absent NFL markets like San Diego and Alabama (Birmingham). The league officially debuted last night and will continue tonight. Its future depends on viewers actually tuning in.

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