SAN DIEGO — Don Yee, the agent for Tom Brady and other NFL stars, and three-time Super Bowl champion Ed McCaffrey will head Pacific Pro Football, a league that will provide an alternative path to the NFL that has never existed.
Pacific Pro Football announced Monday that it is scheduled to begin play in July 2020 with four teams in Southern California. It will allow players to play professionally directly out of high school, with the average salary and benefits totalling $50,000 for a two-month season.
Yee said the NFL is the only major sport in the world that doesn't have any kind of developmental system. The widening divergence between styles of play in college and the NFL means some college players aren't necessarily being trained for the pro game, he added.
Pacific Pro Football will be similar to the NBA's G League. McCaffrey will be commissioner and former NFL Network vice-president Jamie Hemann will be CEO.
"There is a growing realization and concern, actually, in the NFL, all the way from ownership on down, that the growing divergence between the college product and the NFL product is a problem," Yee said in a phone interview Monday. "There also is a realization that is somewhat anomalous, that the NFL product doesn't have any kind of hand in any kind of developmental system."
He pointed to Sunday's AFC wild-card game in which the Los Angeles Chargers beat Baltimore 23-17 by frustrating and harassing Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson. With the former Louisville star leading the way, the Ravens went on a tear late in the regular season by combining a time-consuming ground game with the league's top-ranked defence. The Ravens beat the Chargers 22-10 on Dec. 22, but Los Angeles quickly figured out a way to bottle up Jackson in the rematch.
"There are fantastic athletes like Lamar Jackson, who excelled in college in a particular system, but once he reaches a different style of game and play, you can see it's going to take a little while to properly train him playing a different style," Yee said. "What we hope to do is accelerate that learning curve."
Yee said concern about the divergent styles between college and the NFL is shared by some college players and their parents, and that playing at a four-year college isn't necessarily the best or only path to the NFL.
"It should be OK for a young man to simply want to be a good football player, no different than if a young man or woman simply wanted to be a good engineer," Yee said. "Any kind of ambition is honourable."
Yee said he anticipates that in the first year, most of the league's players will have already played some college football. He added that there are high school players who are good enough to play three years with Pacific Pro Football and then make the jump to the NFL.
"We view it as, this league will be the best of the best, and what I mean is we will not make an employment offer to any player unless we strongly believe that player has a professional football future," he said.
The projected annual average salary and benefits will be $50,000, and the league will negotiate separately with every player depending on perceived market value, Yee said. He said he couldn't yet identify the league's investors.
Once a player becomes eligible to apply for the NFL draft, he will term out of Pacific Pro Football, Yee said. Players are eligible for the NFL three years removed from their high school graduating class.
The league will play in July and August. Plans call for teams in San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties, with games played at community colleges.
Yee said the league will offer one year of free junior college tuition to each player, and teams will have counsellors to offer advice on post-playing careers.
Most of the league's players in the first year will have already played some college football, Yee said.
Besides Brady, Yee also represents Julian Edelman, Jimmy Garoppolo and Saints coach Sean Payton.
McCaffrey recently stepped down as the head coach at Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. He won a Super Bowl championship with San Francisco in 1994 and two more with Denver in 1997 and 1998. Of his four sons, Max is a wide receiver with the 49ers, Christian is a running back and return specialist for the Carolina Panthers and Dylan is a quarterback at Michigan.
"Our league will be fun for players and fans, and fans will see the best of the next generation of stars," McCaffrey said in a statement.
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