We are now only ten days away from the start of the XFL’s regular season on ABC and Fox. All eight XFL teams are in their practice facilities at home, preparing for week one. The entire league is making its final push to the starting line. There is a lot of news and notes surrounding that final drive to the season.
PAT MCAFEE PUNTING ON THE XFL?
The word that I have received in recent weeks from sources inside ESPN is that Pat McAfee has had cold feet about his field analyst for XFL on ESPN broadcasts. The issue is not financial and the travel itself is not the main hiccup. It’s the actual job.
Pat McAfee will not be working his field analyst role every week for ESPN and the XFL. For the time being, McAfee will work the ESPN opener between the Dallas Renegades and St. Louis BattleHawks on Sunday, February 9th.
ESPN’s Cole Cubelic, a former college football player at Auburn, and an analyst for the SEC Network will work games when McAfee is off. He will be paired with the Tom Hart-Joey Galloway team on ESPN.
The sideline reporter/field analyst role is more complicated than it sounds on paper. Unlike working in the booth, a sideline reporter does not have monitors or replays or interaction with the other broadcasters. As the role was described to me by one great broadcaster, “you are flying blind.”
Pat McAfee has, in the past, expressed discomfort in his roles working in the booth and on the sidelines for games. If there were ever a person, who would seem ideally suited for a “flying blind” role, McAfee would seem to fit that bill.
It’s his lack of polish and unorthodox nature, that would on the surface, appear as an ideal fit. It turns out the field analyst role is not as off the cuff, as it seems to be on paper. McAfee’s performance in week one in Dallas will probably determine whether he wants to continue working the position.
ESPN XFL FANTASY FOOTBALL IS JUST A FANTASY FOR NOW
ESPN will not be introducing a fantasy football league platform for the XFL in the coming season. The message that I have received is that ESPN will be observing the league throughout the season, for future consideration.
Several alternate sites have started setting up fantasy leagues online like altfantasysports.com and others. It looks like there will be quite a few DIY leagues in play during the 2020 XFL season. Many of the league dedicated sites like this one will probably be announcing or participating in season-long leagues.
Draft Kings will have a DFS style format for the XFL, but, unfortunately, ESPN is not ready to take the plunge just yet.
The XFL will have weekly prop bets promoted and will likely be featured in ESPN’s ‘Streak for the Cash.’ The feature is a game where you play to build the longest streak of correct picks from sports matchups and win cash prizes each month.
The unknown aspect of the XFL is what their future app will entail. It remains to be seen if ESPN’s on the sidelines stance is because the league wants to introduce the fantasy platform itself eventually.
*Update* Oliver Luck appeared on 1010 ESPN Radio in St. Louis on Wednesday. Luck was asked about fantasy football in the XFL. Oliver revealed that the league would have an announcement next week about its platform for fantasy football.
These are difficult areas for the league to navigate and get right. The AAF rushed out technology that was a modern-day version of paper football. Sometimes, it’s better not to rush out features unless it’s going to be done right.
On the television side, XFL highlights and top plays will be shown on ESPN’s SportsCenter during the season. The network will not have specific weekly shows dedicated to the XFL, but the games and teams will be discussed on various ESPN shows.
SUBJECT TO CHANGE TEAM DEPTH CHARTS/ROSTERS
The initial 52 player rosters are in place for all eight XFL teams. The league plans on releasing their team depth charts next week. Something that will undoubtedly help the fans who will be partaking in their DIY fantasy leagues. The rosters will be fluid and subject to change on a daily basis.
Last week in this column, I reported that former Saints kicker Garrett Hartley had signed with the Seattle Dragons. Two days later, he made the announcement official. In the world of football, things can change in a heartbeat.
Garrett Hartley announced that due to spinal issues, the XFL doctors were unable to clear him to play after his physical. Hartley has been released by the Seattle Dragons. One option could have been LSU’s Cole Tracy who was released to make room for Hartley could find his way back to the Dragons. Former San Diego State and San Diego Fleet Kicker Donny Hageman is being brought in for a tryout by Seattle. The Dragons original kicker Greg Joseph signed with the Tennessee Titans and kicked in the AFC Championship game.
On Monday, Seattle Dragons Head Coach Jim Zorn announced that Brandon Silvers will get the first crack to be his starting quarterback. All indications are that BJ Daniels will play a role in the teams’ weekly gameplan. In a shorter ten-game season, if Silvers were to struggle, it would not be shocking if the team were to turn to Daniels eventually. The Dragons are only carrying two quarterbacks going into their season-opener at DC. WR Keenan Reynolds will be the teams’ emergency quarterback.
On Wednesday, The St. Louis BattleHawks officially announced Jordan Ta’amu as their week-one starter at Quarterback. Ta’amu has a world of talent, which he displayed as the second leading passer in the SEC in 2018. Taylor Heinicke will be his primary backup, while Taysom Hill clone Nick Fitzgerald plays a jack-of-all-trades role.
One of the more exciting QB battles is taking place in Houston with the Roughnecks. PJ Walker and Connor Cook have had excellent camps. Whoever gets the week one nod, will have to perform right out the gate when Houston hosts LA at TDECU’s renovated stadium on Saturday, February 8th on Fox. There will be pressure for players to produce quickly in the early goings of the season.
The Dallas Renegades may get their projected week-one starter, Landry Jones, back in time for the opener. The next week of practice will be very revealing. Ideally, Landry would be healthy enough to get first-team reps. If the season were to start this weekend, Phillip Nelson would be the opening day starter in Hal Mumme’s offense. Landry hopes to be back by no later than week two.
RETURN OF THE XTREME TO LOS ANGELES
Several months ago, XFL CEO Oliver Luck revealed that many former top players from the original XFL had reached out to the league for potential positions. One of the names revealed was former XFL MVP, Tommy Maddox.
Recently, Haley Graves posted a picture on Instagram of the XFL Championship Trophy at Wildcats headquarters.
Let the speculation begin. Will the Los Angeles Wildcats pay homage to LA’s last pro football champions, the Los Angeles Extreme. The championship trophy has been in the possession of JK McKay for 19 years. McKay was the GM of the then Los Angeles Xtreme back in 2001. Back in November, McKay recently met up with Wildcats Team President Heather Karatz.
It would make sense for LA’s current XFL team to pay tribute to it’s original Los Angeles franchise. It could happen at some point during a ceremony in-season. Tommy Maddox was the league’s biggest success story, and the XFL revived his career and reputation. Maddox was the poster boy for why secondary pro football leagues are necessary and work. Tommy went on to lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to the playoffs and win NFL comeback player of the year.
The current XFL has distanced itself and has been the complete opposite of XFL 1.0, but it wouldn’t hurt the league to pay respect to some of the finer aspects and memories of that iteration. Who knows?…. Maybe Rod ‘He Hate Me’ Smart shows up as a featured guest at an XFL game during the season.
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