The Bay Area figures to play a prominent role in exhibition football games scheduled for New Zealand in March.
The game’s organizers are in talks with one of the Bay Area Division I programs -- Cal, Stanford or San Jose State -- to serve as host to approximately three days of send-off practices before the games, Arizona-based agent Jarin Giesler, a certified NFLPA contract advisor who is taking a lead role in the project, told CSNBayArea.com.
The other team is expected to be based in Southern California. The organizers are in talks with USC about using the Los Angeles Coliseum as one training venue. The teams and coaches are likely to travel to New Zealand on the Tuesday or Wednesday prior to the first game.
The opening exhibition is set for Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand, on March 5, 2016. A week later, the teams will play in Wellington’s Westpac Stadium.
“We have 85,000 seats, and we want a person in every single seat in New Zealand,” Giesler said. “Our goal is to bring the game into new areas and take America’s game abroad. But, also, from a player’s standpoint, we are looking to continue careers.”
Each team will feature 35 players, selected from several tryouts across the country. The target players are those who were among the final cuts of NFL teams and have a chance to stick on rosters in 2016.
Giesler said he is in active negotiations with high-profile coaches. He said his goal is to land Super Bowl-winning coaches from the past 15 years. Among those who fit the profile are Brian Billick, Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher and Tony Dungy with Dick Vermeil, Mike Shanahan and Mike Holmgren not far behind.
The organizers hope to get preliminary rosters put together in November, but several players are likely to become unavailable after signing NFL futures contracts after the end of the season, Giesler acknowledges. There will be a pay scale for the players, as well as a series of bonuses available for outstanding players. Every player will be insured against injury, Giesler said.
Giesler said he envisions this game as a showcase for players who made it to the final cuts – and beyond -- but find themselves out of jobs.
“Just because a player is on the final 53 on Week 1, it doesn’t mean you’re on the team for the entire season,” Giesler said. “There are a lot of roster spots that are in flux. In this game, we’re going to be working with those players who are working out for several different teams and maybe they’re on the roster for two weeks. Or maybe a player had a Grade 1 hamstring injury during training camp and didn’t get enough time on the field. They belong on an NFL roster, but for whatever reason they didn’t stick there.
“Our game will showcase their ability to the world, to NFL scouts, to everyone.”
The NFL has no official role in the games. And players who are under contract to NFL teams are prohibited from participating in out-of-season games. In the now-defunct NFL Europe, each NFL team allocated players to the spring league. There are no plans for such an arrangement with this game, but it could be an attractive option for teams to explore that possibility to gain experience for untested players.
“We’re not the NFL. We’re not bringing NFL teams to New Zealand,” Giesler said. “We don’t want any conflict with the NFL. My goal is to get these players’ NFL careers.”
In March, the NFL held its first veteran scouting combine in Arizona. Giesler said he sees these exhibition games as the next step for teams to get an even better look at NFL hopefuls in game situations.
“We’re working with the NFLPA to send out messages to every agent in the country that represents athletes that are the targeted player for us,” he said. “We’re looking for someone who is right there on the cusp of making an NFL roster.
“We’d love to have 32 scouts attend our games.”
The company responsible for the event, Douglas Webber Events, has staged ice hockey, free-style motocross and professional bull-riding in New Zealand. Giesler said there are plans to eventually take American football into China, Japan, Singapore, and the Philippines.