New spring AAF league begins. Why Pete Carroll, Seahawks, many in NFL are hoping it succeeds

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll isn’t the only one in the NFL hoping the new Alliance of American Football succeeds. The new pro league that kicks off its first season of spring football with nationally televised games on CBS Saturday night.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll isn’t the only one in the NFL hoping the new Alliance of American Football succeeds. The new pro league that kicks off its first season of spring football with nationally televised games on CBS Saturday night.

Another new pro football league is starting.

Pete Carroll isn’t the only NFL coach who hopes it succeeds.

The eight-team Alliance of American Football kicks off Saturday with nationally televised games (on CBS) as the latest attempt to fill our nation’s post-Super Bowl void of no football through the spring. The AAF will play a 10-game season. It ends with a championship game in Las Vegas on April 27, the weekend of the NFL draft.

Hall of Fame NFL executive Bill Polian co-founded the new league. AAF coaches include former Seahawks head man Dennis Erickson, former NFL, former University of Florida and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier and ex-University of Washington coach Rick Neuheisel.

Carroll and other NFL coaches are rooting for “The Alliance” to be far more than a filler for football fans February through April. Carroll and his colleagues want the AAF to be a new development league for the NFL.

They want this new Alliance league to be what NFL Europe was from 1991-2007; a stepping stone and feeder system to develop prospects, coaches and even game officials.

“That’s a good topic right now. We’re all kind of excited about it,” Carroll said of the AAF, which former NFL stars Troy Polamalu, Hines Ward and Justin Tuck are helping to oversee.

The NFL has for the last dozen years relied almost exclusively on college coaches to ready players for entry into professional football. Lately, most of those college coaches are teaching and playing a game that is so different than the NFL. The college game is proliferated with un-NFL-like spread offenses, limited playbooks and offensive linemen that go games or even entire seasons without putting their hand on the ground in a three-point stance to fire off low in run blocking.

The AAF gives the NFL a pro league in which to assess readiness, instead.

“We’re going to take it in and do the evaluations where they allow us to, when we can see them and all that,” Carroll said.

The AAF begins play Saturday at 5 p.m. on CBS with coach Mike Martz’s San Diego Fleet playing at the San Antonio Commanders in the Alamodome, plus the Atlanta Legends (who announced Thursday Michael Vick will not be their offensive coordinator, after all) playing at Spurrier’s Orlando Apollos.

The Alliance also has teams in Tempe, Ariz. (that’s Neuheisel’s venture), Salt Lake (Erickson’s team), Memphis (coached by Mike Singletary) and Birmingham.

And, yes, the Seahawks are going to be scouting these teams and their games.

“We’ll do all the film work. We’ll do everything,” Carroll said. “We’ll break all those guys down. We’ll just take it as a whole aspect of a feeding system to give us information. The only way we know how to do it is totally go for it, so we’re going to really embrace the whole setup.”

The new league will differ some in play from what we are used to seeing in the NFL and in college football.

The AAF will have no kicked extra points. Teams must go for two following a touchdown. And no kickoffs, either. Drives to begin each half and following scores in the Alliance will begin at the offensive team’s own 25-yard line.

That means no onside kicks, either. The way a team can keep possession is by running a scrimmage play from its own 28 and gaining at least 12 yards on it. It’s a variation on an idea some believe the NFL should propose in lieu of onside kicks, and part of it de-emphasizing the injury-risking kickoff play.

Overtimes in the Alliance will have each offense start at the opponent’s 10-yard line and have one possession to score. If the game is still tied after those two drives, the game is over and is a tie.

No more than five defenders can rush the quarterback on passing plays in the AAF. The new league has a lot of nuanced rules on what constitutes a pass rusher and links it to whether he is lined up on the line of scrimmage at the snap.

The AAF will have a “sky judge.” That will be an extra game official sitting in the press box with real-time technology to correct “obvious errors involving player safety at any time, as well as pass interference inside of five minutes left in the fourth quarter.”

That’s a reaction to the NFL controversy over the key no call on an obvious pass-interference by the Rams late in Los Angeles’ win at New Orleans last month in the NFC championship game.

Also, the AAF’s play clock is 35 seconds instead of the NFL’s 40.

Carroll and other NFL coaches will be watching those game tweaks as well as the new league’s players to see what and who might work in the big league.

“It’s an exciting venture, as always,” Carroll said, “and we think it’s necessary. We think it’s a necessary opportunity that’s been created, and we’re really excited to see what it turns out (to be).”

Coach Pete Carroll talks about how Seahawks’ rebound season ended in the first round of the playoffs, where he feels they are going for the future.

NFL Network, CBS Sports Network (CBS’ cable arm) and TNT will also broadcast AAF games through April.

The games won’t have any TV timeouts, and will have 60 percent fewer so-called “full-screen commercials” than NFL game broadcasts. So expect partial-screen ads, banners and product placements all over the field and broadcasts instead.

The new league has some players recognizable from college or past NFL football.

Ex-UW Huskies and Tennessee Titans running back Bishop Sankey is playing for the San Diego AAF team. B.J. Daniels, a Seahawks backup quarterback and wide receiver who was part of Seattle’s Super Bowl team in the 2014 season, is now a QB for Salt Lake at age 29. Former Colts, Browns and Alabama star running back Trent Richardson plays for Birmingham. Christian Hackenberg, the Jets’ second-round pick in 2016 out of Penn State, is a quarterback for Memphis.

Carroll and his fellow NFL coaches want the AAF and perhaps the XFL, wrestling tycoon Vince McMahon’s second try at a spring football league in 2020, to be what the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and National Hockey League all have: A professional minor league the big league can use as a direct developmental pipeline for players to fill the back ends of rosters.

“We’re going to learn stuff,” Carroll said. “We’ll learn a lot about these guys, and some of these guys are going to play.

“I think it’s great. I hope it works out.”

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.