With the USFL having completed two seasons, the league has set themselves up for future success – potentially with the NFL. During Championship weekend at media day, USFL President of Football Operations Daryl Johnston spoke about the possibility of working with the NFL in the future.
#USFL President Daryl Johnston on a potential NFL partnership:
"It make sense for there to be conversations about allowing key positions to come down to the USFL, but go directly back to the NFL team that holds their rights."
While there is no guarantee that this type of development could take place before season three, Daryl states “I hope to have an announcement on this pretty soon” – which would indicate that there have been talks surrounding this topic already.
Whether or not a partnership is secured before season three, Daryl Johnston laid out the intended game plan for what it would look like.
USFL & NFL Partnership
The USFL is a stand alone professional football league, and that will likely never change. That being said, the USFL clearly exists to provide players with a platform to jump to – or return to – the NFL. The spring football scene is much different nowadays. These leagues are looking to work with the NFL, not against.
As of right now, the NFL doesn’t have an official farm system, similar to what the NBA (G-League) or the MLB (minor league baseball) has in place. The USFL could fill that role seamlessly, with the type of partnership that Daryl Johnston and league management has in mind.
Right now, a dilemma faces NFL teams looking to develop players who might not see minutes during the regular season. They can’t let them go, simply because another organization could scoop them up.
Johnston’s plan would allow for NFL athletes to play in the USFL (possibly even for a number of years), with the ability to return to the team that originally sent them. Essentially, the NFL team would retain the rights to that player, with the option to re-sign them at any point before other NFL GM’s could snatch them away.
He gives an illustration dating back to the days of the AAF:
“We go back all the way to 2018, when I was in the Alliance of American Football. Jeff Stoutland is the offensive line coach for the Eagles. I asked him, ‘wouldn’t it be great for Jordan Mailata to actually come to our league and play in a game?’. He said ‘absolutely. But, as soon as I let him go do that, I have to go into a bidding war with the 31 other teams to get him to come back, because everyone is going to see how talented he is…I don’t want to get in a competition for services by letting him go to the AAF’. There’s some conversations we’d like to start having with the NFL for allowing some free flow. It would give us access, but return that player to that team. These are things that are in infancy right now, but would be better for both leagues.”
Johnston then went on to say:
“It makes sense for there to be conversations about key positions, or all positions, to come down into the spring league (USFL) – but then go directly back to the NFL team that has your rights. Don’t open up a bidding war with everyone else when they see how good this guy can be. If he was yours coming down, he’s yours going back.”
We’ve seen spring football leagues attempt this in the past. Of course, the AAF was banking on an NFL partnership, which ultimately led to Tom Dundon shutting things down.
This time around, the USFL is in a much different position. They’ve proven that they are sustainable for long-term growth, while providing plenty of NFL organizations with quality athletes that they’ve developed over the past two seasons. A partnership, such as the one that Daryl Johnston is proposing, would absolutely benefit both leagues involved.
As the offseason grind continues, this is certainly a story to keep a close eye on. An NFL to USFL pipeline would only strengthen the quality of play in the league.
In other news, the USFL to NFL signings are picking up from season two. You can stay up to date with our official tracker.
What are your thoughts on a potential USFL and NFL partnership? How could this development shape the future of the USFL? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!