Currently, the NFL maintains ridiculous profit margins thanks in part to having zero player development costs, via not supporting a minor league system. Instead, the NFL uses the college system as its de facto minor leagues.
And that has efficiency consequences due to imperfect incentives.
College coaches are tasked with winning games. If they produce NFL players, great, but that is not the primary goal.
So they recruit to that goal. Players are only in the college system for four years; three if they’re elite. That’s a very small amount of time to develop a player, particularly if he is raw.
Recruiting a player whom a program might need to spend three years developing — just to have a potential of one year of good play — is not going to be a winning formula. Knowing that, colleges must manage risk and balance prospects with floor and those with ceiling. And that floor is likely going to be altered by some players receiving private QB coaching outside of what is available at a typical high school.
But if the NFL had its own minor league system, instead of relying on colleges, its future prospects would be in programs fully focused on player development, instead of winning games.
If the NFL had a minor-league system, it could take its time to develop a raw, toolsy high school QB who likely wouldn’t be ready to make a difference in college, but who could, after six or seven years in the minor leagues, be ready for the NFL.
It would also be responsible for the results, instead of blaming colleges, like former Arizona coach Bruce Arians did in his book.
The most important trait needed to become a QB is leadership. But there is no leadership required of the quarterback in [the college] version of the spread. He doesn’t talk to his teammates in the huddle, he doesn’t change the snap count — hell, he barely even reads the defense. The college spread quarterback doesn’t learn the mental and physical skills needed to execute the intricacies of the NFL game. That puts the college spread QBs who aspire to play and succeed in the NFL at a distinct disadvantage.
If an NFL team doesn’t want QBs coming from spread offenses, it should simply not run spread offenses in its minor league system.
Additionally, because football would be a job, players would spend all of their time developing, as opposed to going to class, etc., as they do in college.
Because of the mental load required to play QB, it is the position that could benefit the most from players being in a professional development system at a young age.
This is what baseball does.
Nobody cares about winning games in the minors, because it’s all about player development. And so the incentives are aligned with development.
Baseball teams routinely scout players in the Caribbean who are the equivalent of high school freshmen or sophomores. Many of these players come from abject poverty, without the benefit of private coaching received by players stateside. Pro teams sign them at 17, and those players spend the next six or seven years in the minors, not focusing on winning games for their minor league teams, but on developing.
But this would cost money, so don’t count on it.
Is having better QB play worth maintaining an NFL minor league, potentially at tremendous cost? Probably not, considering how expensive football is and all the associated medical and potential liability costs.
So college football and the various startup leagues will continue to serve as the only possible paths to the NFL.