UFL transferring opportunity

The United Football League (UFL) is gaining more attention this week for its transfer fee than for its championship game this week in Omaha. Let’s take a look.

The Fee

The UFL is charging a fee of $150,000 for their players to sign contracts with NFL active rosters for the remainder of the 2010 NFL season.

The UFL is not charging the transfer fee for players signed to NFL practice squads or players signing “reserve/future” NFL contracts for 2011 and beyond, which NFL teams can start doing in a month. Nor is the league charging for players who played less than four weeks in the UFL, as the case with Michael Clayton, who signed with the Giants yesterday.

The reasoning

The UFL may have decided that if it cannot get the finanacial support of the NFL -- through investment or outright acquisition – it will attempt to garner that support through a transfer fee. And, of course, in the litigious society we live in, we cannot discount the possibility of the UFL putting together an antitrust action against the NFL somewhere down the line.

I spoke to UFL Commissioner Michael Huygue (Huygue and I were both general managers in the NFL’s World League; Huygue with the Birmingham Fire and I with the Barcelona Dragons), who told me "The reality is that we are not set up to be a developmental league for the NFL. We are a stand-alone league set up to serve our markets with quality football in its own right."

Although discouraging the notion of the UFL being a developmental league, Huygue pointed out the players that have “graduated” from the UFL to the NFL such as Graham Gano, Matt Bryant and Michael Spurlock (featured in picture with this column).

Huygue also mentioned the case of Charles Grant, a longtime Saint who played for the UFL earlier this season before being released. Upon clearing UFL waivers (thus no transfer fee issue), he signed with the Chicago Bears, who waived vested veteran Mark Anderson to bring in Grant. The Bears now owe Anderson $1.345 million in termination pay, and paid Grant his salary for three weeks. The Bears investment of a combined amount of over $1.5 million in Grant was an indicator to Huygue that if an NFL team truly wants a player, it will pay what is necessary.

The reality for UFL players

Of the 43 players that moved from the UFL to the NFL following the 2009 UFL season, 15 were signed to NFL active rosters, with the rest to practice squads and reserve/future deals.

In talking to scouts and personnel directors around the NFL this week, there is a consensus that (1) the UFL does have better talent than it did in 2009, but that (2) the transfer fee will have a deterrent effect on signing players. In this year of teams reigning in player compensation due to the uncertainty of the future, the $150,000 transfer fee is cause for pause among personnel directors around the league.

We’ll see if there are signings ahead. The first player signed to an active roster may be running back Lorenzo Booker, as several teams are sniffing around him, with the Vikings showing the most interest.

Despite the improved talent base, my sense is that transfer fee or no transfer fee, very few UFL players are going from the UFL directly to the NFL active rosters this season. Practice squads, yes; futures contracts, yes; 53-man rosters, no.

It was challenging for NFL Europe players to contribute to NFL rosters, even with the benefit of training camp. The unspoken reason why NFL teams put players into NFL Europe every year was for roster exemptions. Invariably, NFL Europe players would be cut, with our scouts referring to “dead legs”. And UFL players are playing through late November.

I understand what Huygue and the UFL are trying to do in establishing themselves as an alternative to the NFL rather than its farm system. The reality is that the transfer fee will have some deterrent effect on signings, although transfer fee or not, I suspect there wouldn’t be many to begin with.

Wishing everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy!

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt

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