Former San Francisco 49ers running back Jarryd Hayne was on a podcast recently, and he had a chance to discuss his reasons for leaving the team earlier this year. We’ve heard about the attempts to try out for the Fiji rugby sevens Olympic team. He did not make the roster, but he contends the reasons were a bit more complex than just trying out for the Olympic team.
Hayne had no football experience prior to joining the 49ers, and in the podcast, he talked about the lack of playing time and how it would stunt his chances at development.
“I need to be getting game time and you just can’t get that over there (in the NFL) because of the way it works,” Hayne said. “The offence is only on for a certain amount of time and then there’s five other running backs.”
He raised an interesting point that applies more to non-traditional NFL players, but also is something that has been discussed before.
“If there was a second division team where I could get those mental reps of being on the field, 100 per cent I’d go back to the NFL. I’m at the end of my career where I really (have) just got to get on the field. I just want to be on the field. I’ve played eight games in two years. If I went back there to the NFL it’d be one of those things where I’d be a second or third string guy helping out but not really getting a lot of game time.”
Right now, college football acts as the NFL’s minor league. The league and the NCAA will deny that, but that’s what it is. Players have to stay at least three years, and so they get a chance to develop their bodies and develop their skills. It is not an ideal system because the NFL does not influence it like a baseball team influences a minor league team, or an NBA team might influence a D-League team. But it provides something.
Even if every player entering the NFL had college experience, a minor league would make sense. The offseason workout program and training camp are sufficiently short enough that it is hard for players at the bottom of the roster to stand out. Some don’t stand out because they’re just not any good, while others just need more time. We’ll find out this year if Eric Rogers is an example of the latter. When he finished college at Division III Cal State Lutheran, he signed as a UDFA with the Dallas Cowboys. He was subsequently released, and after a brief stint in the Arena Football League, he signed with the CFL. He had a solid start in 2014, and then blew up in 2015, leading the CFL in receptions, yards, and receiving touchdowns. Now, he joins the NFL, where he will look to take a next step.
An affiliated minor league system would provide more opportunities for players that fly well under the radar. It does not need to be a full 32-team minor league system at this point. That’s a huge step up. But potentially having an eight-team league, with four NFL teams essentially splitting up the roster of one minor league team could make for an interesting option. Ideally we’d reach the point where the NFL could have a full system where each team can implement their offense and defense and develop players accordingly. However, for the time being, something basic just to provide some opportunities would be a good start.