- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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Starting a new football league is a bold venture, but the United Football League is moving forward with a three-year plan to go against the odds.
Wall Street investor William Hambrecht, Google senior executive Tim Armstrong and Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are among the investors willing to gamble $30 million for the UFL to work. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is expected to come aboard as investor at some point, too. The plan is to hang around until 2011 with a modest schedule of fall games played in selected cities.
On Wednesday, the league announced an impressive list of head coaches: Dennis Green, Jim Fassel, Ted Cottrell and Jim Haslett. They are each being paid roughly $500,000 this season to put a team together from a list of players who will be cut from NFL teams in June and in training camp. The UFL season will be about as long as baseball spring training. The coaches will hold a two-week training camp in Case Grande, Ariz., in September, before the four teams embark on a six-game schedule that ends before Thanksgiving.
The four teams, whose games will be played in San Francisco, Orlando, Las Vegas and New York, will have a player salary cap between $12 million and $20 million. And, yes, this could be the league that offers Michael Vick a chance to play this fall once he cleans up all his legal problems.
The interesting part of this venture is that this "rival'' league doesn't appear to be a rival. The commissioner is Michael Huyghue, a former NFL senior vice president. In some ways, the UFL will be an unofficial developmental league for the NFL. The plan isn't to compete for players. The plan is to offer jobs and coaching to players who have been cut from NFL teams. That's something the league has needed for years for players on the street.
One major problem for the NFL is the UFL's presence will exhaust the supply of players available for teams that need to fill holes during the season. From September to Thanksgiving, NFL teams that lose players are basically out of luck. It's hard finding players now. Imagine what it will be like with 200 players getting ready for the UFL season.
So why would some of America's best and brightest invest $30 million on this project? It's pretty simple. They are betting NFL owners will screw up labor talks in the next two years and have a lockout in 2011. If the NFL loses in labor, the UFL may win. If the NFL players are locked out, the UFL can offer them a home.
The key for the UFL is to survive for two years. If it can survive Year 1, the league will modestly expand in 2010 with a couple more teams and a few more games. Coaching salaries will increase to $1.5 million next year if that happens. Supposedly, the $30 million should carry the UFL into 2011.
Of course, if NFL owners reach a deal with the players by next March, the UFL will be nothing more than a fall developmental league, which isn't so bad.
The presence of the UFL is just a reminder to NFL owners to not overplay their hands in talks with NFL Players Association. Owners don't like to consider players as partners, but reality says they are. The current collective bargaining agreement might not be ideal for the owners, but they can't afford to let the salary cap go away in 2010.
The UFL is just a reminder to NFL owners not to screw things up in the next year.
As Denver's world turns
The ongoing soap opera in Denver between new coach Josh McDaniels and quarterback Jay Cutler will obviously be settled over time, but it's fascinating drama while it plays out.
Face it, McDaniels screwed up by trying to get involved in the Matt Cassel sweepstakes. Cassel isn't as talented as Cutler, so the Broncos never should have investigated a possible trade. But that's what can happen when a coach has a proven offensive system. The system coach would obviously love to bring in the quarterback who runs his system.
Still, McDaniels has one of the league's best young quarterbacks in Cutler, and now he's temporarily broken the trust. If Cutler skips the Broncos' first round of offseason conditioning drills and film study next week, the rift will get worse.
The problem facing Cutler is that he can't carry on this boycott for too long. The team isn't going to trade him. Cutler has to learn McDaniels' system. Cutler's made his point, but a lengthy no-show isn't going to make him a better quarterback. Look for McDaniels and Cutler to patch things up in the near future.
Any takers for Garcia, Leftwich?
It's not surprising teams aren't moving on Jeff Garcia, one of the top starting quarterbacks available. He's 39 years old. Plus, teams such as Tampa Bay, Detroit, San Francisco and the Jets want to watch how their quarterbacks handle the offseason programs and minicamps. These franchises all have new head coaches. They have to learn their rosters. Garcia is only a phone call away if things don't work out.
The bigger surprise is the cold shoulder being given to Byron Leftwich. He's 10 years younger than Garcia. He has a strong arm. He has great leadership skills. Yet he's unemployed. Somebody is missing out on this one. Baffling.
Senior NFL writer John Clayton covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
The United Football League will debut this fall. Is it a threat to the NFL? Only if NFL owners are dumb enough to have a lockout in 2011, writes John Clayton.