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The long term impact of XFL players signing NFL contracts

By Mike Mitchell


On Monday at 9 am E.T., XFL Players are eligible to begin signing with NFL teams. Here we are, in March, just days after the XFL officially canceled their 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The entire timeline for XFL players being eligible to be signed by NFL teams has moved up. This is a topic that I anticipated writing about after the XFL Championship game concluded in late April.

Most observers feel that about 50-80 XFL players will eventually end up signing onto NFL rosters in the coming weeks and months. NFL teams had scouts watching or at every single XFL practice and game, dating back to January. The vast majority of players who played in the XFL were either already on NFL rosters recently, or were on NFL teams’ radars dating back to their college days.

One of the main criticisms against a second pro football league has been the quality of its play and players. The level of their talent has always been one of the measuring sticks for the XFL. If the league scouted and coached well, a good number of their players would make their way to or back to the NFL.

The XFL’s intention is not to be a developmental league for the NFL, but by default, they are a gateway. The XFL’s mission is to scout, draft, and sign the best available pro football players. Part of it is giving opportunities to players who have been overlooked and have not received playing time. It just so happens that by doing so, you unearth quality football players, who would have otherwise not been allowed entry or re-entry into the NFL.

Some of the XFL players will be given better playing opportunities because they finally got a chance to prove themselves on the field during games. Not limited reps in practice or play during non-gameplan preseason contests.

Followers and supporters of the Alliance of American Football wore the developmental label as a badge of honor. When the AAF folded, seeing a hundred players sign on to NFL rosters was a validation of their existence.

By the time the NFL preseason started last August. NFL teams had 83 AAF players on their rosters. By the time the NFL regular season arrived. 18 of those 83 AAF players made the NFL.  Half of the AAF players ended up on active NFL rosters, while the other half ended up on practice squads.

Over 140 of the AAF’s players eventually ended up on XFL rosters. The playing time and game tape, these players got in the Alliance helped them continue playing pro football in the states and Canada with the CFL.

So what will the number of NFL signings of XFL players end up being? Before, the XFL season started in February. The league released a player background diagram of all their active roster players. 207 of the league’s 416 players were on NFL rosters six months before XFL kickoff.

The 207 were mostly players like Wide Receiver Cam Phillips, who just missed the regular season cut. Some of the XFL’s players were on NFL active rosters and practice squads during the 2019 NFL season.  Players like Josh Johnson, P.J. Walker, Scooby Wright,  Cardale Jones, Chase Litton, DeMornay Pierson-El, and several others.

One could surmise that since 207 of the XFL’s players were on NFL rosters at cutdown day, that it’s natural to assume that a good number of the XFL players will end up back on the NFL’s expanded 90 player offseason rosters. If only it were that simple, the NFL draft process opens the door for hundreds of college players to enter the league. The numbers game in the past has made it harder for players to regain entry, but times may be changing on this front.

The new NFL CBA has opened the door for more players to make the NFL. The young fringe NFL player, which was a significant part of the XFL’s player talent base in 2020, now has more chances to stick in the NFL.

Effective immediately, NFL practice squads are expanding from 10 to 12 players per team. In 2020, this will create 64 more jobs. Also, working in the practice squad players’ favor is the rule that the teams can now elevate two players weekly to an active roster. 

Included in all of this is the flexing of a previous rule, where players were only allowed to be on practice squads if they had just a limited amount of accrued seasons. Starting now, All 32 NFL teams can have up to four players with unlimited accrued seasons on their practice squad. This will help young veterans stick around longer in the NFL. In 2022, NFL practice squads will increase to 14 per franchise.

The expansion of NFL practice squads in 2020 will undoubtedly aid in XFL players making NFL teams this coming season. It could increase the overall number of XFL players who land on an NFL roster. The AAF had a handful of players who made it to opening day. The XFL could see that number increase under the new rules.

The argument exists that the expansion of NFL rosters will hurt the XFL’s talent base moving forward. It’s a fair point. What also needs to be taken into account, is that XFL players making NFL rosters will only help the league recruit better talent in years two, three and beyond. Players who see the likes of P.J. Walker, Jordan Ta’amu, and others make the NFL, can directly attribute the XFL’s existence to why it happened.

XFL players that end up extending their pro careers or getting legit opportunities to play will be an advertising tool for all agents and their players.  The young quarterback who is stuck in no-mans land like a Kyle Sloter or Chad Kelly as third or fourth string quarterbacks.

For them, watching someone like P.J. Walker carve out an NFL roster spot, or maybe even playing time in the future will serve as motivation to play in the XFL. The only way to get better or prove yourself is to play when the real bullets are flying.

There is one XFL player who won’t be signed by NFL teams. At least not until after the draft, and that’s St. Louis BattleHawks star safety Kenny Robinson.

As a 2020 NFL draft-eligible player, Robinson can’t be signed until after the draft concludes. Robinson’s choice of playing in the XFL has paid off. It has also opened up a potential gateway for other players like Robinson to follow potentially. The former All-Big 12 Safety from West Virginia has provided a pathway for other transfer portal college players to consider seriously.

Robinson’s success may also open the door for ineligible draft college players playing in the XFL down the road. The superstar sophomore college player may entertain going pro a year early in the XFL.

Some XFL supporters will see NFL teams signing away their best players as a bad thing. I see it as a validation of what we already knew and why we supported the XFL, to begin with, because there are tons of quality football players out there.

P.J. Walker may never play as a Houston Roughneck ever again. His spot will always be available to him, should he inexplicably return, however, Walker’s success is what is best for the overall future of the XFL.

Players like P.J. took a chance on the XFL. They could have sat on the sidelines and signed a futures contract. Instead, Walker bet on himself. Betting on the XFL is something all football players should be doing in the future without hesitation.

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I am a pro football writer who has extensively covered and reported on multiple leagues over the years. I started covering the XFL back in 2001. You can follow me on Twitter @byMikeMitchell

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