There's a lifeline out there for the guys who couldn't quite make it in the NFL this month: the Alliance of American Football.
Call it spring football or a league for development or whatever. To those players who were cut when NFL rosters were set — and even for those who actually get to spend a bit of time in the league this season — it's a second chance.
The Alliance will take its first snap in February on the weekend after the Super Bowl with teams in eight cities for a 10-game schedule. The players mostly are being culled from the lists of those released by NFL clubs, with a sprinkling of players who for a variety of reasons didn't finish college and are no longer in school, or were pros and have been out of football recently.
Each signs a three-year contract worth a total of $250,000 — $70,000 for the 2019 season — and there are performance-based and fan interaction incentives that will afford players the chance to earn even more. And, should the NFL come calling between now and when the 2018 season ends, those players are free to try to make it there.
Already, about a dozen players have taken that route.
"We have in our contract 'an NFL out' which means every player that signs an Alliance contract, if he has an opportunity to go to the NFL we will allow him to do so," says Pro Football Hall of Famer Bill Polian, a co-creator of the new league. "That applies to NFL tryouts and contract offers. It's the same with someone who an NFL team wants to activate and the player is under contract with the Alliance. All we ask in return for that is that once the player's NFL career is over, whenever that might be, if he wishes to play spring football, he is obligated to complete his contract with us."
Well over 1,000 players were part of NFL transactions once the preseason ended. That's quite a workforce, and it's safe to say nearly all of them are eager for another shot.
To get that shot, the most expedient route could be the Alliance, which has franchises in Atlanta, San Antonio, Orlando, Phoenix, San Diego, Memphis, Salt Lake City and Birmingham. Most players are allocated regionally depending on where they played in college or the NFL, or which NFL team drafted them.
It makes sense those guys would do their best to stay in shape during the interim; Alliance training camps will begin in early January and run through the month. There also will be some minicamps in the fall for each team.
While quarterbacks won't be paid exponentially compared to other positions, there will be a special draft conducted for them in late November following a QB camp that also will include selected wide receivers and tight ends.
"Each team will protect one (allocated) quarterback and then the others are open," Polian explains. "We want to make sure we get the best eight starting quarterbacks throughout the league and not have a few on the same team."
While the pay scale is egalitarian, those quarterbacks, and every other Alliance player — close to 350 have been signed — could earn additional money for such things as wins, statistical achievements and even how many fans they get to follow them on social media or on various devices they use to watch the games.
Coaches have similar incentives.
The league also has been proactive in the gaming area, recently signing a deal with MGM Resorts International, which not only became a partner with the Alliance, but an investor.
Polian believes such partners/investors are impressed by who is involved in putting together and running the Alliance.
"The thing that got me reinvigorated is the group of football people we have working with us," he says. "Every single person ... has got NFL experience. If we run into a problem, we make a telephone call and the problem is solved.
"Everyone has been through the NFL and they know what worked and didn't, and it's great fun working with these guys and having discussions with them. It's nitty-gritty football work."
There is no true working, uh, alliance with the NFL, though Troy Vincent, the NFL's football operations chief, notes that "any league playing football means more opportunity."
Polian's league, which was co-founded by longtime TV and film producer Charlie Ebersol, has secured a broadcast deal with CBS and CBS Sports Network. The gentleman's agreement on player movement certainly is a positive step for both sides. Pro football could wind up with a place to develop players for the NFL while filling the non-gridiron void on the calendar.
"Players often who miss in the NFL do so for reasons not about ability," Polian says. "Injury is the most common. Perhaps the system is such they don't fit in where they have been and do not get an opportunity to show their skills. Or immaturity; they're just not ready to be professional athletes.
"We offer an opportunity for a young man to resuscitate his career. It is a second opportunity to show what he can do and maybe get another chance in the NFL. It is a lifeline for guys whose careers have stalled."