I'm not sure how many of you follow the workings of the United Football League (UFL), but their season is over and NFL franchises are looking to poach players off their rosters. One of the big reasons teams have begun looking at UFL teams is because players are in game shape, as they've been playing football for weeks against plenty of other former NFL players. The UFL also essentially follows an NFL rule set, so the transition isn't hard.
There is a big sticking point right now, UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue has stated the UFL is going to enforce a little known rule this season, a $150,000 transfer fee.
To this point, no UFL players have been signed to an active roster. NFL teams have signed some UFL players through a loophole, that allows them to bypass the $150,000 transfer fee. The feeling is that no NFL team wants to be the first team to pay the fee, but it's understood that once one team does the rest should follow. There is fear that the UFL could go the way of the USFL and file an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL if no one will pay the fee.
There have been some players who have worked out for NFL teams, but teams haven't signed a player because the UFL would not waive the fee. Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post reported that kicker Nick Novak worked out for the Bengals, but the Bengals refused to pay the fee so he was not signed.
This rule has drawn much ire from UFL players and agents. I spoke to David Canter of DEC Management recently, as he represents a number of NFL and UFL players. He doesn't like the UFL enforcing the fee at all. "It puts the players and therefore us agents at a very disadvantaged position- we can’t sell our clients to teams who want them because no team is willing to pay to allow the transfer," Canter told me. A fair point is raised by Canter, as the fee prohibits him from doing part of his job. "It will definitely have me looking for other opportunities outside of the UFL for my clients," Canter added.
Even some current UFL players are speaking out against the fee. Linebacker Gerard Lawson vented on Twitter earlier in the week about the fee saying, "If it wasn't for this dumbass $150k release fee from the UFL, I would be a Jet right now," Lawson tweeted. The fee brings up a troublesome issue that the UFL is really going to have to think about and face, could enforcing this rule opt fringe NFL players to skip the UFL and bet on their chances of getting picked up by an NFL team mid-season?
UFL Commissioner Michael Huyghue during an appearance on The Dan Patrick Show hinted that the $150,000 fee is negotiable. To this date however, not a single team has attempted to do anything other than refuse to pay the fee. I mentioned earlier there is a loophole that allowed NFL teams to sign UFL players. An NFL team can sign a UFL player to their practice squad and then promote them to the active roster without paying the fee, but that's a lot of hoops to jump through and severely limits the pool of players in which teams can pull from. As we all know, practice squad eligibility is limited to players with little to no NFL experience. Quite a few of the UFL players in which teams would be interested in are actually former NFL veterans, however.
There is a flip-side to the UFL fee, however. While on one hand it's detrimental to the league because it's upsetting players and making NFL teams less likely to work with the UFL, it's very vital to a struggling sports league to protect it's assets and investments. If the UFL just allowed NFL teams to poach their rosters at will, the league can't survive. There is already language in the UFL contracts that do not allow a player to sign with an NFL roster until the conclusion of the UFL season.
The UFL employs players and keeps them in game shape. Allowing teams to poach their players freely ultimately damages the league. While the $150,000 fee to just sign a player is rather ridiculous, a fee of some fashion isn't. Recently, UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue told Robert Karpeles of AOL Fanhouse that the league would slash their transfer fee from $150,000 to $25,000. A smart move on Huyghue's part, as it makes it more likely a team will pay that cost.
"It is surprising to me that 15 NFL clubs would bring players in for tryouts with full knowledge that a transfer fee was required to sign them and then refuse to pay the fee," Huyghue told AOL Fanhouse. "Notwithstanding, we recognize the value in sending players to the NFL and have accordingly reduced the fee to $25,000 which can be paid by the club or directly by the player," Huyghue added.
Apparently this move came after the complaints of many UFL players, much like Gerard Lawson, who've had NFL opportunties ripped away because of the transfer fee.
It's a Catch 22 for the UFL. For their long term success they have to both protect their assets but they also want to be in the good graces of the NFL. Most feel it would be in the best interest of the UFL to try and be a "minor league" of sorts for the NFL, they cannot just roll over and let the NFL walk all over them. They do have to tread lightly however, and slashing the transfer fee instead of abolishing it is a good step in the right direction. The UFL will still get something for their players and NFL franchises will likely be more than willing to pay the $25,000 fee.
The $25,000 transfer fee can be paid by either the NFL franchise or the player, as a kind of "buyout" to their contract. This came after several UFL players pleaded to have the ability to pay the fee themselves. The fee was not enforced last season, so the uproar comes from players and agents feeling as if they were misled by the UFL, despite the language being in the contract.
So, what say you? Is the transfer fee good or bad for the UFL?