New AAF is just the start of off-season fun for NFL junkies

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield at the Cleveland Sports Awards after winning Athlete of the Year. Picture: Tony Dejak/AP
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield at the Cleveland Sports Awards after winning Athlete of the Year. Picture: Tony Dejak/AP
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It has been just over a week since the Super Bowl – one which many deemed the most boring ever – a game which signifies the end of the official NFL year. But, for fans of the sport, all is not lost. With the closing of the season we have the start of the new Alliance of American Football or AAF – available on YouTube. It is a new affiliate of the NFL aimied at giving players who have fallen out of the league or who weren’t drafted a second chance to shine.

The first round of matches took place over the weekend and, while the level of talent is maybe a little shy of the NFL, these players are throwing their everything into a last shot at the big show. Set to unfold over the next ten weeks, it will let American football fans to keep a toe in the water.

For those who want to get right up close to the game, look no further than the British American Football Association, whose season starts on 1 April and runs until September. The women’s season is already in full swing. There are a growing number of teams in Scotland who all offer fun gameday experiences.

For the NFL, the 2018 season was a good one. The focus moved on from Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest against police treatment of black people and TV viewing figures were once again on the rise. The new mantra of all-out attacking football seemed to be in full effect when Kansas City Chiefs lost 54-51 to the LA Rams in week 11. By that point in the season, quarterbacks were well and truly to the fore as Drew Brees broke the record for passing yards in a career, overtaking Peyton Manning.

When you consider that five of the top eight are still playing in the NFL, it looks like offense is here to stay.

Brees is also not far from breaking the passing touchdown record, although we may have to wait until halfway through next season before that title falls to him and he has Super Bowl winner Tom Brady breathing down his neck.

One of the brightest stories of the season was the turnaround of the Cleveland Browns. The perennial duffers found a place in most fans’ hearts during the offseason as stars of the Hard Knocks documentary series. Having won just four games in the previous three years the season started with a tie but things improved from there.

The removal of head coach Hue Jackson and giving the starting job to rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield enlivened a morose fanbase. The Browns still lost more games than they won but they did it with exciting football and the promise of more to come. While Mayfield took all of the plaudits, running back Nick Chubb –an early second-round draft pick and Rookie of the Year runner-up – caught the eye with a powerful style that could make him vital to the Browns offense for years.

The NFL has done a great job of making itself relevant year-round over the last decade, and the busy offseason schedule begins with The Combine on 26 February. It is a cattle market where coaches get to check how fast and strong the new rookie class is .

Then comes the opportunity to franchise tag players. Teams can choose one of their out of contract players and prevent him becoming a free agent by offering a a one-year deal at 120per cent of his previous salary.

Then comes free agency and finally the Draft on 25 April, when a new set of college players wait by their phones in the hope that an NFL team takes a punt on them. If they are signed, they have training camp to look forward to and, in the case of lower round picks, a battle to secure a roster spot for next season. There are also the inevitable off-season stories of players being caught in dodgy situations (usually with guns or recreational drugs) to keep our attention until the big kick-off on 5 September.