Once you get past all the glitz and glamour of the XFL’s new ownership group, the most crucial element for its success will be the quality of the league’s play, and there are reasons to believe that the football product can be stronger the next go-around.
In 2020, one of the XFL’s primary goals was presenting good football. For all of the league’s innovations, the one area that they needed to get right was the quality of its play. For the most part, they did. It’s never an easy task putting together eight teams from scratch and having them produce cohesive football.
In 2020, The XFL capitalized on targeting players who just missed the cut in the NFL. It’s no coincidence that the XFL draft in 2019 took place after the NFL roster cuts in September. The goal was to get the best players who were not playing in the NFL, and ultimately to find the overlooked players that should be in the NFL.
Because of the current football landscape, there are reasons to believe that the XFL’s player talent pool can be stronger in 2021 than it was in 2020.
These are five specific areas where the XFL’s quality of play can benefit.
NFL Roster Cuts
“If I was coming out of Hofstra [University] now, I’d have a zero-percent chance to make the team. There wouldn’t be enough opportunities to showcase myself. It would’ve been tough for me. I don’t mind admitting that.”Former All-Pro New York Jets WR Wayne Chrebet to ESPN’s Rich Cimini on how he feels bad for current undrafted free agents in the NFL.
Even in standard years, the path to becoming an NFL player has always been difficult. Less than two percent of all college football players make the NFL every year. That’s not hyperbole or twisting the facts to make a point. It’s the estimated probability and yearly figures directly from the NCAA itself.
Now more than ever, the road for a college football player trying to make the NFL has never been more challenging. Because of the restrictions due to the pandemic, NFL rosters were cut down from 90 to 80 before camp started. On top of that, came the elimination of preseason games. Even before the entire process started, college free agents that generally take part in rookie camps lost that opportunity.
The ability to showcase their talents disappeared for the fringe players. Without the games, undrafted diamonds in the rough of the past like Wayne Chrebet, Chris Harris, Tony Romo, Priest Holmes, Jeff Saturday, John Randle, Nightrain Lane, and hundreds of others may have never broken through to become NFL stars.
NFL teams miss on players all the time. It happens, quality players get lost in the shuffle. With no preseason games, it’s even more likely that quality players will slip through the cracks. The security blanket of games for NFL teams during the summer is gone.
The NFL is expanding their practice squads to 16, but they are allowing for six veterans to be on those reserve units. Regardless of experience. So for an undrafted rookie or second-year player they are still fighting for the same number of spots that they have in the past.
Only this time, they lost the opportunity to showcase their talents. Good football players slip through the cracks all the time for many reasons. The numbers game is the most significant factor.
It’s the numbers game this year that stands to benefit the XFL. Three hundred and twenty players were released before NFL camps started. Once NFL teams finalize their rosters and practice squads, three hundred and fifty-two players will be without NFL jobs after this weekend. Some will make it back in, and some won’t. The XFL should be waiting for these players with open arms.
All totaled, counting the cuts before and at the end of NFL training camp. There will be 672 players available—a big enough player pool to fill 12 XFL teams in 2021.
Former XFL Players
As of press time, there are over two dozen former XFL players in the NFL. Obviously, with NFL cuts happening. The overall total could change in a hurry. The former XFL players that do not make the NFL will have their former home waiting for them. The players that latched on to NFL teams proved that they could play when given an opportunity. Playing in the league made them better pros as a result. The former XFL players will be better in their second go-around with the league.
Then from there, what you have is roughly 400 former XFL players that did not sign onto an NFL roster. The majority of the eight-team rosters are still out there, ready to assemble. There’s a strong case for continuity in bringing these players back to their former teams, especially if the original coaching staffs and front offices return. Familiarity may breed contempt in certain aspects of life, but in football, it produces winning.
With a whole new crop of free agents out there from recent NFL cuts. There will be stiffer competition for former XFL players to make their teams again. But as a result, the competition will make the overall league stronger.
The CFL did their players a disservice by waiting so long to cancel their season. Recently, CFL teams have been allowing their players to opt-out of their contracts to play in the states. The timing just days before the start of the NFL season was less than ideal for players to get roster spots.
The deadline for CFL players to opt-out has been extended, but as of press time, nearly 90 players have opted out of the CFL. Most of the players want to keep their options open in case an NFL opportunity comes up or if the XFL gets up and running.
Former XFL players like Seattle Dragons WR Dontez Byrd and New York Guardians CB Ranthony Texada signed deals with CFL teams after the XFL season, only to be involved in another league that shut down due to the pandemic. Both Byrd, Texada, and players like them could be eyeing their way back into their former league.
While the option of pursuing CFL players may not be as healthy as the pursuit of NFL cuts, it gives the XFL another avenue to strengthen their talent pool. Last season, CFL players like Derek Dennis, SJ Green, and Armanti Edwards made their way into the XFL. The CFL defection list to the XFL has the potential to be larger in 2021.
College Football Players
The elephant in the room covered in uncertainty. Some college football conferences are playing in the fall. Some might be. Either way, the XFL could benefit from pursuing college football players more extensively than they did last year. The added option of playing pro football and being compensated could be enticing for some college talents that are currently in limbo.
The XFL merely dipped their toes in the water last season, recruiting players from the college ranks. Out of the transfer portal came West Virginia Safety Kenny Robinson, and onto the Carolina Panthers, drafted by way of the St. Louis BattleHawks.
2021 might not be the year for a full-scale raid of college football talent by the XFL. A strategy that could see college freshman and sophomores targeted in the future, but the door is open to entertain signing college players who have become a victim of the current landscape.
Arguably, the ultimate key to enhancing the quality of a league’s play. Last year, the XFL paid players a modest entry-level salary of 55k per season. Players also received win bonuses. So some players stood to make more than their average base.
The XFL paid only their top Quarterbacks six-figure salaries unless you were Tampa Bay Viper WR Antonio Callaway. Although, according to some sources, the six-figure amount varied for particular Quarterbacks.
As a new league, in the hopes of surviving long-term. Moderation is key. You literally can’t afford to break the bank for players until revenue sources are stable and growing. So if the likes of a Colin Kaepernick comes calling asking for twenty million dollars. You have to pass on the polarizing passer.
The structure of the XFL in 2020 was geared towards team equality. So what you don’t want is individual teams having an unfair advantage by enticing star players on their rosters with rich salaries. The league has to stay balanced and fair.
However, the argument can be made that the XFL should look to raise the bar in player salaries for select players and perhaps overall through incentives. Moderation is essential, but in some instances, like a superstar college sophomore, enticing that type of player with a firm financial offer might be the best course of action.
Raising player salaries will also help attract the star veteran player who would typically scoff at the notion of playing in the XFL. In 2020, several agents and players confided in me that they passed on playing in the league because the money wasn’t right.
It goes without saying that I am operating under the assumption that the XFL will be back to playing games in 2021. It will be no simple task to pull off but if 2021 is the target date for return. Then the time is right for the XFL to benefit from the current football landscape.
The goal of XFL 3.0 should be to improve upon what the league did well in 2020. When it comes to the talent level and quality of play. Exploring and capitalizing on these five areas will give the league a real chance to present an even stronger product on the field than it already showed.
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