There were 256 players drafted last month, and not all of them will make NFL rosters in the fall. There are about 250 veteran players who were under contract in 2008 but are still looking for work. There is a natural attrition rate in the league. And yet, there might be a way to tap into all of the veterans who still want to play but can't find work.
How does the reality of out-of-work football players connect with the NFL's desire to grow the game internationally? I have a plan that might address a multitude of issues.
The draft is over, there are no games on the calendar and there are some great NFL coaches out of work. There is an opportunity to create something special.
Some people may look at my idea as absurd. But if you read on, it just might make sense. At least it might open a spirited debate.
Build two teams that become the ambassadors of the NFL and sell the game around the world while NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith figure out the next collective bargaining agreement. I have met with Goodell and Smith on numerous occasions and I believe that they are not only smart guys, but also creative minds that might see what I see when it comes to a win-win plan.
The NFL wants to sell the game worldwide and expand the schedule to 18 games. My plan solves those issues as well as providing players employment opportunities, developing the minority coaching program, keeping some high-profile coaches in the game and building a talent pool the NFL can tap into in the second half of the season. It might even resolve the issues surrounding the coaches' pension problems.
We all know how the Harlem Globetrotters grew the game of basketball worldwide. My idea calls for real football played by NFL veterans who want to stay in the game.
NFL Europe didn't work because it was minor-league talent in the spring. Here's a concept that could excite fans worldwide. The league should hire a real smart guy like Bruce Allen, the former GM of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to run the world tour and recruit the talent and coaches. The tour games would look similar to the Pro Bowl, and the advanced marketing would be easy with former legends of the game.
Keys to the plan:
1) Hire two head coaches, guys like Jon Gruden and Mike Shanahan, to head up two teams of world ambassadors. If they aren't interested, I'm sure guys like Marty Schottenheimer, Dan Reeves, Don Shula and others would love the opportunity.
2) Offer the top 100 out-of-work players the opportunity to join one of the two 50-men rosters that will play an eight-game schedule against each other around the world. While some players will respectfully decline to participate, there are another 100 waiting for the chance. Wait until you see the players who could join these teams.
Until the NFL adopts Pat Kirwan's idea of having two teams of unemployed NFL veterans touring the world, the league's top ambassador might be Dhani Jones. **More ...**
3) The NFL wants to sell the game around the world, in part so it can help deliver the salary compensation and years toward the coaches' pension. The league will also be excited to see the revenue streams available and the potential to grab a veteran player at the end of the world tour. I see the games being played on Friday nights, so stateside fans can get a chance to see their favorite older stars. Don't you think fans would love to see Marvin Harrison catching passes from Trent Green? Or Donnie Edwards tackling Shaun Alexander?
4) Set up a three-week training camp for both teams starting on Aug. 1 at one site (Orlando, Honolulu or Los Angeles would work). Finish preseason camp with a preseason game for each team against an NFL team in the last week of the preseason. The fourth week of the preseason is about as boring as it gets in the NFL, but these games would provide great interest. Imagine if a team full of guys who were told their time has come in the NFL put a whipping on a real team?
5) Here's an eight-game schedule that might create more worldwide interest in the NFL than sending two teams to London every year. Kick off the season with a four-week European schedule starting on Sept. 11 in London, Sept. 18 in Berlin, Sept. 25 in Paris and Oct. 2 in Rome (you could substitute another German city, or maybe Amsterdam or Barcelona). Then both teams could take a week off before the second phase of the tour, which picks up in Mexico City on Oct. 16, Honolulu on Oct. 23 (Hawaii lost the Pro Bowl in 2010, but this might be more exciting), Tokyo on Oct. 30 and Sydney on Nov. 6.
6) The players are home by Nov. 9 and NFL teams would be free to sign them for the second half of their season and the playoffs. Most out-of-work veterans know if they get to November and don't get the call, their careers are over. This world tour would keep them in football shape and might remind some general managers that they still have what it takes to win in the NFL.
Worldwide fans would recognize the players on these teams, especially if they wore the helmets of the teams they played for in the NFL -- just like in the Pro Bowl.
7) Here's just a partial list of players out of work who could make up the two rosters. I'm sure many would turn down the opportunity for various reasons, but an awful lot of them have told me that they still want to play but no one is calling. Imagine if the commissioner said that a troubled player could work off a suspension by playing on the world tour? Some of these guys might be signed by the time this is posted, but others will become available. Here's the list:
Quarterbacks:Rex Grossman, J.P. Losman, Trent Green, Gus Frerotte, Brad Johnson and Anthony Wright ... maybe even Brett Favre!
Running backs: Edgerrin James, Shaun Alexander, Warrick Dunn, Deuce McAllister, Ron Dayne, DeShaun Foster, Tatum Bell, Samkon Gado and Jesse Chatman.
Wide receivers: Marvin Harrison, Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, Matt Jones, Marty Booker, Drew Bennett, Troy Brown, Ike Hilliard, Joe Jurevicius, Koren Robinson, Travis Taylor and Reggie Williams.
Tight ends: Mark Bruener, Justin Peelle and Marcus Pollard.
Offensive tackles: Fred Miller, Jason Fabini, Levi Jones, Barry Stokes, Wayne Gandy, Kwame Harris and Jon Runyan.
Guards/Centers: Pete Kendall, Edwin Mulitalo, Adrian Jones, Terrence Metcalf, Ephraim Salaam, Jason Whittle, Chris Naeole, Melvin Fowler, Grey Ruegamer, Andy McCollum, Tom Nalen and Jeremy Newberry.
Defensive ends: Jason Taylor, Kevin Carter, Kalimba Edwards, Ebenezer Ekuban, Simon Fraser, Travis Laboy, Willie McGinest and John Engelberger.
Defensive tackles: La'Roi Glover, Dewayne Robertson, Hollis Thomas, Anthony Weaver, Brian Young, Orpheus Roye and Kindal Moorehead.
Linebackers: Derrick Brooks, Donnie Edwards, Morlon Greenwood, Napoleon Harris, Gary Stills, Marcus Washington, Jamie Winborn and Ryan Nece.
Cornerbacks: Sam Madison, R.W. McQuarters, Roderick Hood, Deltha O'Neal, Patrick Surtain, David Barrett, Jerametrius Butler, Travis Fisher, Aaron Glenn, Adam Jones, Chris McAlister and Fakhir Brown.
Safeties: Rodney Harrison, Kevin Kaesviharn, Sammy Knight, Lawyer Milloy, Corey Chavous and Mike Brown.
Kickers/Punters: Martin Gramatica, John Carney, John Kasay and Matt Stover.
Don't think for a second that a large number of these and other players don't want to show NFL teams they can still play. Every year there will be another 250 veterans being replaced by rookie draft picks, so the pool would never run dry.
It's time to tap into a resource that has never tapped into before. Instead of turning our backs to the men leaving the game, let's offer them a chance to be ambassadors of the game. Could anyone sell this game better than people like Derrick Brooks, Lawyer Milloy, Willie McGinest or Jon Gruden? Do you think a team consisting of the best 53 players not on an NFL roster could still win some games in the NFL? I do!