Austin will experience a taste of pro football in 2018.
Brian Woods, founder and CEO of the Spring League, told the American-Statesman on Thursday he is bringing his free-agent showcase to town for a three-week run in late March and April.
Think of the Spring League as part extended NFL combine, part NBA G-League. Approximately 150 pro football hopefuls will be divided into four teams, practice daily and play games on weekends. A site, or sites, for practices and games should be announced within the next week.
Woods said Austin was chosen over four other cities, including Canton, Ohio, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Over the last several months, we’ve surveyed NFL clubs on ways to build upon the success of our inaugural season” at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Woods said. “The vast majority of NFL teams we polled requested two things going forward: a warmer climate and a centralized location.
“Austin will provide us with favorable weather during April, a major airport with direct flights and a centralized locale for NFL teams. I’ve spoken to NFL people, and they are excited we are coming to Austin.”
Woods said all six of the 2018 Spring League games will be televised, and an announcement about a major media partner will come in the near future.
The NFL circulated a memo to its 32 teams that Austin will be the 2018 Spring League host. Until the league surfaced last March, the NFL hadn’t had a developmental league since 2007 when NFL Europe folded.
The inaugural Spring League helped launch more than a dozen players into NFL or Canadian Football League camps, including two former Texas Longhorns — quarterback David Ash (Carolina Panthers) and wide receiver Daje Johnson (Ottawa Redblacks).
Although the Spring League is geared toward younger players, the 2016 rosters included such NFL veterans as defensive end Greg Hardy and running backs Ahmad Bradshaw, Fred Jackson, Ben Tate and Anthony Dixon.
Woods said 22 NFL teams and a handful of CFL teams participated in the league in 2017.
Although player invitations haven’t gone out for 2018, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick would be a natural fit. It’s possible that another high-visibility QB or two with local ties — Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III, perhaps even Vince Young — could be on hand.
“We’ll definitely look to have a Texas element and some players from the Big 12,” Woods said.
The Spring League has become a good tool for scouts and general managers, Wood said, because NFL teams can watch players in a real football setting, with contact and scrimmaging. He also said the 2018 version in Austin will be about innovation.
“We’ve become an incubator for new technologies, and in 2018 we’ll serve as training grounds for referees,” Wood said. “Additionally, we’re planning to host a football-specific tech forum.”
The league also will have an internship program in conjunction with the University of Texas’ Center for Sports Leadership & Innovation.
Quarterbacks and wide receivers will report March 28; all other position players come in March 29.
The Spring League is in contract discussions with an Austin venue, according to Woods, and plans to play its weekend games in a stadium, selling tickets for the contests.
“We look forward to hosting the Spring League,” said Lance Aldridge, executive director of the Austin Sports Commission. “Building upon the success of their ‘17 launch, we anticipate a larger number of participants, including players, scouts and team representatives.”
FYI: Spring League
What: An instructional league and showcase for pro football hopefuls.
When: Three consecutive weeks in late March/April.
Format: The league invites about 150 free agents, who will be divided into four teams for workouts and games. The schedule will include six games, three for each team, played under NFL rules.
Did you know: The first Spring League was held this past April in West Virginia, and the opening game drew more than 60,000 viewers on Facebook Live. … The Spring League was founded in 2016 to serve as an instructional league and showcase for professional football hopefuls. NFL general managers, coaches, scouts and player personnel directors are given an opportunity to see a host of players in one setting.