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USFL, XFL merger is a big win for football, but what’s next?

After a few years operating independently, the USFL and XFL are now one step closer to becoming one organization working toward the same goal. Thursday’s joint announcement signals an “intention to merge,” but the move is not official yet.

Here’s the official statement.

“Today, the United States Football League (‘USFL’) and the XFL announced their intention to merge,” the leagues said in a joint release. “Subject to customary regulatory approvals and if the transaction is consummated, the new league will establish best-in-class operations based on the most recent seasons of both leagues. This historic combination will anchor professional spring football with substantial capabilities and resources to ensure future growth and continue to enhance the development of the collective players, coaches, and staff that are coming together. More details regarding the new league will be announced at a later date.”

USFL statement on intention to merge with XFL

Fans of football may be most familiar with the USFL’s short reign from 1983-85, but the league began again in 2022, delivering an alternative form of football played in the spring. The idea was for players who have not secured an NFL contract to be given a chance to show why they do. With a strong performance, their odds of being noticed by NFL talent evaluators would improve. This opportunity was extended to young players looking for their first chance to play professional football, and even to experienced vets looking for a path back to the NFL.

Meanwhile, the XFL had a similar plan. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson got involved, as one of the majority owners in conjunction with founder Vince McMahon. Just like the USFL, the XFL previously operated back in 2001, but only for a single season. Yet, the XFL respawned in 2020 and has stuck around since.

Both leagues have just eight teams apiece, which is a far cry from the 32 NFL franchises. But now with the expected merger, the expectation is that all eight teams from both leagues will remain intact, giving the new league a total of 16 teams.

While there may be some additional rule changes that could come later as the leagues continue to experiment with different regulations than the NFL has in an effort to evolve the game, for the most part, it’s the same style of play NFL fans enjoy.

Related: Predicting NFL playoff bracket and Super Bowl 2024 winner

XFL-USFL merger is long overdue, but how does it benefit the NFL?

XFL: Vegas Vipers at Arlington Renegades
Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

There are over 300 players who join the NFL from college each offseason. As we know, there are not over 300 players who retire each year. This leaves a massive amount of players who don’t have jobs once rosters are trimmed from 90 down to 53 players. While a 16-man practice squad helps some athletes find peace, what about the hundreds of others who cannot find another opportunity?

That’s where the XFL-USFL merger comes into play. While the league is not expected to play at the same time as the NFL, games will likely continue to be played in the spring, having an alternative landing spot only helps players continue to develop their craft. But it’s not just the players. Coaches need to practice too, whether it’s drawing up new plays, seeing how players execute them, or just gaining experience with in-game clock management. There are plenty of ways coaches benefit.

One of the biggest issues facing the NFL today is not having enough quality offensive linemen to withstand all the talented pass-rushers spread throughout the league. Having another format like the USFL-XFL merger will only further the development of offensive line prospects.

Then what about quarterback play? There’s no denying the fact that QBs today are better than ever, but there still aren’t enough quality signal-callers capable of leading a high-powered offense. Look at a team like the New York Jets right now. They’re playing out the year with Zach Wilson, but what if instead of feeling like they only have a short list of retired or nearly retired athletes, what if they could take a chance on a rising star who has shown the ability to spark a locker room instead? What if that player was already in the system, and already had some level of familiarity with their playbook?

Chances are a player of that caliber, one who dominates at other levels, would already be rostered somewhere, but right now there’s a lack of film on players from alternative leagues. Once the XFL-USFL merger becomes official and goes mainstream, it’s hard to imagine how there wouldn’t be at least a few QBs who parlay their performance into a chance at earning an NFL roster spot.

Who knows? Maybe this is just the beginning of something bigger. Every other major sport, from NBA, MLB, to the NHL has a minor-league development system. Each team has their own way of developing rising talent. For some reason the NFL doesn’t have a similar process in place, and that makes no sense.

You’re telling me there are 90 players worth a roster spot in the summer, but by the time it’s game time, there are only 53 who can a roster spot? That’s a massive gap.

We always hear how tough it is for GMs to make those final decisions, deciding which players are worth investing more time into. But what if those decisions didn’t have to be as firm? What if an organization could take a chance on a raw athlete fresh out of college, knowing it may take three years or so before he’s ready for the NFL? Right now it’s very rare to see a three-year QB project in the NFL because roster spots are so valuable, but in a minor-league development format? What do you have to lose?

No matter what, the NFL needs a development system in place. Right now they have nothing aside from a practice squad, but that’s just not enough. For how physical this game is, where players get hurt each week, you can’t tell me NFL teams wouldn’t prefer having a collection of talent on hand, who already has at least some familiarity with organization.

It may require drastic changes, like altering when the alternative league plays their games, but having another option, where players can continue to develop, makes far too much sense not to eventually come to fruition. It’s obvious NFL owners have the funds (even if they don’t want to part with it – See poor NFL field qualities, usage of turf), and even if they may not be able to see it now, investing into the further development of football prospects would only create sharper play on the field.

While we may not see a development league officially tied to the NFL for several years, it makes far too much sense not to happen. Perhaps the XFL-USFL merger is just the beginning. If all goes well, why shouldn’t they become the NFL’s little brother, forming an official partnership that becomes the minor league of the NFL?

Related: NFL QB Rankings 2023: C.J. Stroud’s arrow points up heading into Week 4

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