NEW YORK -- New director of football operations Troy Vincent can see in the NFL’s future a developmental league, an eighth official on the field for games, and coaches using tablets on the sidelines to call plays.
Vincent, a former Pro Bowl player and president of the players’ union, recently replaced Ray Anderson, who left the league to become athletic director at Arizona State.
"Each of us shares the responsibility for preserving and growing the game," Vincent said before mentioning some specific projects that could be on the NFL’s horizon.
One is establishing a developmental league.
"We need to keep the pipeline of talent flowing, and that means for all areas of our game: players, coaches, scouts, game officials. I am responsible to look at whatever the competition committee looks at, and that includes a developmental league.
"For all this football talent around, we have to create another platform for developing it. Maybe it’s an academy -- what would it look like? Maybe it’s a spring league; we’ll look to see if there is an appetite for it."
NFL Europe, the last such league, folded in 2007. But it produced plenty of NFL talent in all sorts of jobs.
Vincent said the league will once again experiment with an eighth official in the preseason, then the competition committee will assess the value of making a change. The game has become faster and far more pass-oriented since the NFL went from six officials to seven way back in 1978.
"As the game evolves, we owe it to the officials themselves, to the players, the coaches and to the fans, to keep a fresh approach," Vincent said.
By using the eighth official, essentially a second back judge, this summer, the NFL also increases the pool of officials it could hire who have some sort of game experience.
"They are the ‘third team’ and they are critical in the way the game is managed and played and perceived," Vincent said.
Vincent gets animated talking about upgrading technology, noting how his eighth-grade son watches cut-ups of plays on an iPad, yet NFL coaches and coordinators on the field and in the coaches’ boxes upstairs still use printouts. He chuckles when recalling how the still photos sent down to the field could get wet and sticky and be virtually useless in bad weather.
And he shakes his head with a smile while considering the possibilities.
"They are endless," he said. "We just have to be sure we are not harming the true elements of the game."