The XFL’s push to sign its top-tier quarterbacks is underway.
Now that the smoke has settled somewhat after NFL cuts. The XFL and its football ops department, coaches, and personnel directors have been working the phones communicating with player agents, trying to make a convincing sales pitch to join their league.
It’s during this stage of the year that the quality of the XFL’s play in 2023 will be determined. Particularly at the most critical position, Quarterback.
Convincing Quarterbacks To Sign With The XFL
The new leadership of the XFL, which includes some key personnel figures from the last iteration, are hoping to take the same approach as the 2020 XFL by signing eight quarterbacks to exclusive contracts off the bat to be in the league. Whether these select QBs are entered into the draft process or assigned to teams remains to be seen.
Who the XFL covets and who they end up landing will be a different story. After all, convincing fringe NFL players to take a plunge into an alternate pro football league is no simple task. Particularly for prideful veterans who are accustomed to playing in the biggest league for significantly higher paychecks.
Choosing a league like the XFL requires commitment and faith. Even if it’s only for a short time, quarterbacks under contract with the XFL will not be eligible to leave for the NFL until the end of their 2023 season. A similar scenario developed in the fall of 2019 when the Detroit Lions attempted to sign Josh Johnson to their active roster, but he was already under contract with the XFL.
It will take a decent enough salary to lure quality quarterbacks that go beyond the league’s average $59,000 player salary for the season with an additional $20,000 of additional benefits, which includes health insurance.
XFL 3.0 is expected to pay in the six-figure range for select quarterbacks. However, the question is, how far do they want to push the envelope?
Three years ago, many would argue that the last iteration of the XFL went a bit overboard in paying quarterbacks to play in their league. Perhaps it was a necessary tactic, considering that players like PJ Walker, and Cardale Jones, among others, had standing offers from NFL teams to be on practice squads.
But two specific veterans, Landry Jones, and Matt McGloin were paid close to seven figures as the league’s highest-paid players. For various reasons, neither player lived up to their salaries.
Beyond the financial lure, the XFL has to present itself as a viable option for prospective signal-callers. The league has taken some significant steps recently to prove its viability for QBs who are considering the league.
Jordan Palmer’s role with XFL Quarterbacks
As a recruiting and quality control tool for the most important position in football, the XFL has hired Jordan Palmer to be its exclusive tutor to all the league’s quarterbacks. He is the newly appointed Director of Quarterback development.
The QB trainer to the stars like Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, and many others will be tasked with helping the league’s signal-callers get ready for the 2023 season in February.
Palmer and his partner Biometrics owner Chris Hess have been instrumental in helping quarterbacks refine and improve their throwing mechanics. Josh Allen has credited Palmer and Hess with helping him become more of a rotational thrower – studying his body position and perfecting the optimum throwing angles.
In his role with the XFL, The QB Summit founder and coach Palmer will work with the coaching staff from each XFL team to create an advanced quarterback development program. By combining physical therapy, strength training, and position coaching from each team into one program.
Months before the XFL season kicks off on February 18th on ABC/ESPN. From September to December, XFL QBs will work with Palmer and focus on movement efficiency and throwing mechanics. In addition, quarterbacks will be provided with an actionable plan for continuous development opportunities throughout the offseason and establish consistent remote consulting with Palmer and his team.
The XFL is setting up an infrastructure that is ideal for quarterbacks. The question is, will Palmer’s success with young passers push the league in one specific direction? As it pertains to who they decide to sign and draft for the XFL.
Upside Versus Experience
“With Jordan’s leadership and expertise, we will help develop and empower the next generation of QBs.”XFL President Russ Brandon on what the hire of Jordan Palmer means for the league.
On the surface, and based on XFL President Russ Brandon’s quote. It would appear that the XFL will be leaning more towards young developmental signal-callers rather than established veterans.
However, while banking on upside and growth is enticing, the truth is that overall play quality could suffer if an entire league entrusts the QB position to only inexperienced pro players. Simply because young quarterbacks typically go through growing pains. And the teams they are on suffer as a result.
A year ago in the NFL, most of the league’s high-profile rookie signal-callers struggled. Outside of Mac Jones and a late emerging Davis Mills. Trevor Lawrence, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Zach Wilson had rocky first years as pros. Subsequently, the Jaguars, Bears, and Jets were among the worst teams in football.
The new XFL might not be headed towards a middle ground of experience and inexperience at the quarterback position. But one could argue that they would benefit from trying to field the best quarterbacks they can find rather than just the youngest.
20 Potential Quarterback Options For The XFL
For the purposes of this list, I am going to separate prospective quarterbacks into different categories—the veteran and neophyte groups.
Although, some of this might not age well. Because as I am typing this, NFL teams are still releasing and signing players to their practice squads just days before the season starts. Guys can go on and come off the list fast. Veterans and rookies alike.
As a result, Intriguing options like Josh Rosen (Browns) and Chris Streveler (Jets) are off the table for the moment. Because they are on NFL practice squads. You could argue that neither player has a path to being an NFL starter and that the XFL would be the optimum avenue for them to prove themselves. However, for the moment, I am ruling both of those players out. Perhaps players like Rosen or Streveler could be let go by their NFL teams in a couple of months. But for now, they are not options for the XFL.
I am also not including the grey area of USFL quarterbacks like Kyle Sloter, Luis Perez, etc. Originally contracted and drafted USFL players who did not sign the rollover bi-lateral option will see their contracts expire on December 31st. They will become eligible if there is mutual interest between them and the XFL to join the league in January.
Let’s also get the pipedreams out of the way first. Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick would be entertaining options for the XFL. They would undoubtedly create buzz and interest on name value alone. For that reason precisely, they would be worth a high salary. And it wouldn’t hurt for the XFL to shoot their shot with both players. However, the reality is that Newton and Kaepernick would pass on playing in a league like the XFL because of pride and pay.
I will also rule out the possibility of players coming out of retirement to play in the XFL. As cool as it would be to see an RGIII, Ryan Fitzpatrick, or even a Matt Leinart, who jokingly teased a return upon the announcement of The Rock buying the XFL in 2020. None of these options are realistic. No matter how fun it would be to see come to fruition.
There are two XFL 2020 players that are good bets to land on a 2023 XFL roster. Cardale Jones and Eric Dungey. The likelihood is that both will enter camps as backups with something to prove. A Bob Stoops Dungey reunion is certainly in the cards. In many ways, Cardale Jones and Eric Dungey are similar, in that they fall under the what could’ve been category.
All eight XFL teams will have 45 active players on game day, and it’s likely that teams carry three quarterbacks each, with potentially a third QB stashed on their five-player practice squad. So at the bare minimum, I expect the XFL to have 24 quarterbacks when the 2023 season starts. Many could come from this group. But also, new additions could arrive in January when the NFL season ends and more players become available.
Here are 20 available quarterbacks who the XFL could be targeting and signing.
Potential Veteran Quarterbacks For The XFL
Brett Hundley, Blake Bortles, Deshone Kizer, Garrett Gilbert, Kurt Benkert, Kevin Hogan, & Ryan Finley.
All seven players above have vast NFL experience, and many have started games in the league.
The doorway back into the NFL has opened and slammed shut on them multiple times. It’s likely that more opportunities to latch onto the back end of a roster could arise again.
Like in the case of Kurt Benkert, after recently revealing that he’d had conversations with the XFL, a few days later, Benkert worked out for the Chicago Bears.
The reality is, however, that the door on playing time and starting opportunities has completely shut on veterans like Kurt Benkert. There’s no shame in being a career third or fourth-stringer, and the pay is good if you can maintain a spot. But the former Virginia standout has been in the NFL since 2018 and only has a kneel-down worth of regular season playing time to his credit.
Blake Bortles almost falls into the Cam Newton/Colin Kapernick pipedream category. Convincing a veteran like him to join the XFL could take some serious convincing.
Earlier this year, Blake Bortles asked for and was granted his release from the New Orleans Saints when the team signed Andy Dalton to back up Jameis Winston. The reasoning was that he wanted another opportunity to make a roster as a backup and a more viable chance of playing as the next man up. That opportunity did not surface for Bortles. It’s possible that it still could, especially with veteran contracts not guaranteed after week one of the NFL season.
But if Bortles is looking to play and be a starter again. The XFL might be the 30-year-old former first-round pick’s last chance. Bortles has a cult following who would love to see him try and resurrect his once-promising career.
Brett Hundley is another former NFL starter with the sand running out of his hourglass. The Baltimore Ravens most recently cut the 29-year-old former UCLA star for younger backup options. After starting nine games with the Packers in 2017. Hundley has only played in two NFL games since, mop-up duty with the Arizona Cardinals in 2019. He recently worked out for the Vikings, and he could get another shot on the back end of a roster. But his starting and even #2 backup days in the pros have long since passed.
Kevin Hogan is another veteran signal-caller who was recently released. The Houston Texans let him go in August. The former fifth-round pick out of Stanford has been with seven NFL teams since 2016. The 29-year-old hasn’t seen the field since 2017. Hogan is not a sexy choice as an XFL starter. However, he could be the perfect veteran backup to help aid a rookie signal-caller in meetings and practices.
After starting 15 games as a rookie second-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2017, the now 26-year-old DeShone Kizer has fallen off the NFL radar ever since. His disastrous tenure with the Cleveland Browns lasted only one year after he went winless and led the league in interceptions.
Kizer went from promising prospect to journeyman fringe player quickly. He was traded to Green Bay and spent time with Las Vegas. And was most recently on the Titans’ practice squad in 2021 before Tennessee let him go. Leagues like the XFL have always been great for redemption stories. (See NFL comeback player of the year, Tommy Maddox). Kizer is still young enough to rewrite his story.
Ryan Finley is a young veteran, a former fourth-round pick in 2019 out of NC State. A first-team All-ACC player who has four NFL starts under his belt. The 6’4 27-year-old has been out of the NFL since 2021. Typically players who take the alternate pro league plunge are those who have been out of the NFL loop for a season or more. Finley could look towards the XFL to revitalize his career.
The player who will be most aligned with the XFL, provided that he doesn’t sign with an NFL team in the coming weeks, is Garrett Gilbert. The uncrowned AAF MVP for the Orlando Apollos is on the open market and has a lot of connections to the XFL.
Most notably, his former SMU coach June Jones, who is back with the XFL as Seattle’s offensive coordinator. Coincidentally, Seattle’s DPP Randy Mueller was also a part of the AAF when Gilbert starred in that league. Furthermore, XFL Senior Director of Player Administration Russ Giglio played an instrumental role in recruiting and signing Gilbert when he was in the Alliance.
The 31-year-old Gilbert is well-traveled. He has had ten different stints with nine NFL teams. He parlayed his spring league success in 2019 into the NFL the last three seasons, and Gilbert ended up starting two games and playing well in limited duty. Most recently, with Washington last year. Because of Gilbert’s Texas ties, he could fit in with any of the XFL’s three teams in the state. Perhaps even with another AAF Alum, Hines Ward, in San Antonio.
Other Potential XFL Quarterbacks
Cole Kelley, D’Eriq King, Cole McDonald, Aqeel Glass, Davis Cheek, Carson Strong, Anthony Gordon, Felix Harper, Ryan Willis, Jack Coan, James Morgan, Nate Stanley, & Steven Montez.
The above list is filled with 13 players with limited to no playing experience in the NFL. Excluding Ryan Willis’s stint in TSL. This can be labeled as the neophyte group. A few of these players have worked out for the XFL during their six showcases this summer.
Aqeel Glass is a true rookie coming off a prolific college career at Alabama A&M. The 6’5 St. Louis native dominated the FCS ranks. As a two-time SWAC offensive player of the year. But unfortunately, outside of a brief dalliance with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in rookie minicamp. NFL teams have ignored Glass by looking right through his talents and achievements.
If the XFL is bullish on developing prospects with high upside. Glass fits the mold perfectly.
Another FCS superstar who should undoubtedly be on the XFL’s radar is former Walter Payton player of the year at Southeastern Louisiana, Cole Kelley. The 6’7 250lb gunslinger signed with the Washington Commanders as an undrafted free agent. But was let go in August. The Southeastern Louisiana Lions quarterback Cole Kelley won MVP at the 2022 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. Coincidentally several of the XFL’s current coaches were a part of the annual showcase game this year. Including Anthony Becht, Wade Phillips, Jonathan Hayes, and Duane Taylor.
Some people would scoff at the value of the NFLPA game. A showcase that is sometimes overlooked for more high-profile showcase events like the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine game. However, it would be a foolish notion. Considering that 65 players who participated in the NFLPA game are currently on NFL rosters. Twenty-five are on active rosters, 33 are on practice squads, and seven are on other reserve listings. For what it’s worth, among that talented crop, Cole Kelley was the MVP of that game.
Former Miami Hurricane D’Eriq King is probably easier to overlook than Kelley because of his 5’9 frame. King could be a fascinating weapon in the XFL if given a chance. As a high school player in Manvel, Texas, King broke the career Texas 6A passing touchdowns record of 117 set by Kyler Murray. But his size led to a lot of indecision by college teams when he was recruited.
He started as a WR/QB at the University of Houston before eventually cementing himself as the Cougars’ quarterback. At Houston, the dual-threat playmaker King had 78 total touchdowns (50 passing, 28 rushing), 4,925 passing yards, and 1,421 rushing yards despite starting just 22 games. But a knee injury as a junior derailed his ascent, and he wound up transferring to Miami.
At the U, as a redshirt freshman, D’Eriq King started all 11 games at quarterback and helped lead the Hurricanes to an 8-2 record in the regular season, and was named a semifinalist for Maxwell Award, Davey O’Brien Award, and Johnny Unitas Award. He threw for 2,686 yards with 23 touchdown passes to just five interceptions and set a record for single-season rushing yards by a Miami quarterback, rushing for 538 yards on 130 carries. A season-ending injury in 2021 put a halt to King’s rising star. As a result, he would go undrafted. The Patriots signed him in the Spring but released him soon after that.
Alcorn State’s Felix Harper threw for over 5,600 yards with 55 touchdowns and 15 interceptions during his collegiate career. In 2019, he was the SWAC offensive player of the year. However, at only 5’10 and 180lbs, the lefty Harper is far from your traditional pro quarterback. The Cleveland Browns signed Harper after he tried out during rookie minicamp. But his stay with them was short-lived as Harper was cut less than a week later.
Leagues like the XFL can take chances on quarterbacks like Harper that don’t exactly fit the stereotypical model of what NFL teams are looking for.
An intriguing undrafted rookie QB is Notre Dame transfer Jack Coan. The 6’3 late riser in college showed some promise in limited duty during the preseason with the Indianapolis Colts. But he was released at final cuts. And surprisingly hasn’t landed on the Colts practice squad. Coan is an accurate pocket passer with good accuracy who completed over 65 percent of his passes as a senior with 25 touchdowns to only seven interceptions.
Another rookie quarterback who should undoubtedly spark the interest of the XFL is Carson Strong. The Philadelphia Eagles recently released the two-time Mount West offensive player at Nevada. The Eagles gave him a $20,000 signing bonus to sign on with them as an undrafted free agent. Based on his talents, Strong’s stay on the open market could be a short one. But if he remains available, Strong is undoubtedly the type of young prospect you can bet on. For what it’s worth, Strong has worked with Jordan Palmer since leaving Nevada.
Cole McDonald, Nate Stanley, and James Morgan are three recent NFL draft picks. All from the same class.
McDonald, the 6’4 220lb gunslinger, was a seventh-round pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2020. The former Hawaii standout was a late riser in college. He has the prototypical size and great speed at 4.51 in the 40 to still develop. After two stints on NFL rosters, McDonald journeyed north to play in the CFL with the Tronto Argonauts. He even saw some brief action late in the 2021 season. McDonald asked for his release from the CFL to come back to the states. He worked out for the XFL at their Hawaii showcase.
The 25-year-old FIU grad James Morgan was selected by the New York Jets in the fourth round in 2020. The 6’4 Morgan has seen no action in the regular season. He was released by New York last year and then spent time with Carolina and Pittsburgh before returning to the Jets for a brief stint on their practice squad. The Colts took a flyer on him late in 2021 by placing Morgan on their practice squad. But he was released earlier this year.
Nate Stanley, the second all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns in Iowa football history, is a former 7th-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikes recently let him go in July. Stanley had been on and off their roster since being drafted but never saw regular season action. Stanley has great size, 6’4 235, and excellent arm strength. But hasn’t been able to refine the other aspects of his game.
Former Elon quarterback Davis Cheek started 40 games in five seasons at the University. He missed the 2020-21 spring season due to a knee injury. He finished his career with 8,548 passing yards, 51 passing touchdowns, and 21 interceptions. The Carolina Panthers signed the 6’3 220lb signal-caller as an undrafted free agent, but they quickly turned the other cheek by releasing him when they traded for Baker Mayfield. Davis Cheek led a timing-based spread offense with Air Raid principles, including frequent empty backfields with Mesh concepts in college. His best trait was his decision-making. An XFL team could give him a shot to develop his overall game.
Ryan Willis is a familiar name to alternative pro league enthusiasts. He stood out in the Spring League in 2021, winning a championship running Hal Mumme’s offense with the Linemen. Willis was the league’s MVP and parlayed that into a roster spot with the Chicago Bears last season. He even saw game action backing up Nick Foles late in 2021. But the Bears released the former Virginia Tech grad in May. A few coaches in the league run a Hal Mumme style of offense and could be intrigued with the possibility of working with Willis in the XFL.
Anthony Gordon was a late bloomer in college. Originally a community college player, he exploded on the scene with Washington State in 2019, throwing for 5,579 yards. He was second in the nation with 48 passing touchdowns in 2019, only behind Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow. Gordon’s efforts weren’t enough to get him drafted in 2020. However, he would spend time with the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos and had two separate stints on the Kansas City Chiefs roster. Gordon was let go by the Chiefs earlier this year. He’s shown flashes in preseason action, but the numbers game has phased him out.
Steven Montez, an undrafted free agent out of Colorado, has spent his first two years as a pro on the practice squads of Washington and the Detroit Lions. The Lions released the 6’5 El Paso native earlier this year. A three-star recruit and academic all-American, Montez has the physical tools that have enticed pro teams. But his development has been stunted. The XFL could be the vehicle to tap into his traits.
The XFL’s league mantra championed by Dwayne ‘The Rock” Johnson is about player 54. More than the actual number, it’s about giving players a first, second, or even a last chance to prove that they belong.
The XFL can provide that opportunity to a wide range of different types of quarterbacks.
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