“I think the guys we have on our teams are the best 560 that aren’t playing in the National Football League.Oliver Luck
The above is a quote from XFL CEO & Commissioner Oliver Luck. The quote comes from an interview conducted last week by Thomas Bassinger of the Tampa Bay Times.
Oliver Luck has to make this statement and he has to truly believe and trust in his football operations/scouting department and the brain trust of the league’s eight teams that the XFL has the best 560 players that are not in the NFL.
The teams also have to believe that they have players on their rosters that should be in the NFL right now. Some almost were, but signed exclusive XFL contracts this fall. Over 20 of the XFL’s draft picks have signed onto NFL rosters since October. So there’s no denying that the XFL teams drafted and signed quality talent.
Football observers can argue over whether or not the XFL has compiled a league of players that is worthy of the ‘best 560’ claim. Let’s take an in-depth look at the XFL rosters that have been put together.
Unless there is some change at the 11th hour. Colin Kaepernick will not be playing in the XFL when games air on ABC, Fox, and ESPN starting on Saturday, February 8th. Colin Kaepernick is one player that would bring the league a lot of mainstream attention. The XFL has proven to this point that they are not operating as a league that is desperately looking to gain attention any way they can.
So it comes down to this. How willing is Colin Kaepernick to forgo any huge salary demands and set a meeting with the league’s higher-ups? According to ESPN, XFL Quarterbacks will make a base salary of 125k per season, with a chance to earn as much as 500k based on incentives. Would that be enough to entice him to play in the league?
The elephant in the room is the XFL’s NBA like policy of having players stand for the national anthem. Based on these reasons, it looks like Kaepernick will not be playing pro football with the XFL. There are a lot of football people, rightly or wrongly, that question Colin Kaepernick’s desire to play football. The perception is that he will only play on his terms alone.
Trent Richardson, Fred Davis, Clay Harbor and many other NFL veterans that worked out for the XFL’s teams and were in the league’s player draft pool have not made it onto XFL rosters. One quick look at the players who were drafted and who weren’t drafted by XFL teams tells an interesting story of the makeup of the league’s rosters. XFL teams opted to go younger.
A good portion of the XFL rosters. (Over 200), were players that were in NFL camps in late August and some are players that were cut recently off of NFL practice squads. This tells me that player personnel guys like Daryl Johnston, Joey Clinkscales, and others opted to lean more towards players that are entering their prime rather than players who are potentially no longer in their prime.
Another high profile player that has been earmarked to the XFL for a long time is Johnny Manziel. From a notoriety standpoint. Manziel to the XFL seemed like a perfect fit.
However, Manziel did not work out for the league with nearly 900 other players this past summer. Nor has he received an invite or contract offer. The XFL’s teams proving yet again that they are making football and not business-related decisions.
Many of the XFL’s top executives like Daryl Johnston with the Dallas Renegades, do not hold ‘Johnny Football’ in high regard as a quarterback or as a teammate in the locker room. Johnston did the same thing with San Antonio in the AAF. Despite having territorial rights to Manziel. The Commanders and Johnston opted to pass on Manziel. The decision was made because they didn’t want to add Manziel into their locker room. That’s a huge indictment on Manziel. One that unfortunately he earned by his actions in the NFL and CFL.
The NFL and its teams miss on players all the time. A large portion of NFL players are undrafted or late-round picks. Lamar Jackson was pegged by some as a WR rather than a Quarterback. Not only was that ludicrous but it was also the wrong position to project him to.
If you were going to make the mistake of not playing him at Quarterback. Then Running Back was the right wrong call. Not a wide receiver. Some teams would have moved Lamar to a receiver and completely taken the ball out of his hands and negated his otherworldly running skills.
Even the NFL gets it wrong when it comes to players. A positive for the XFL’s talent level. There will be a select handful of players in the XFL that prove that they should have been in the NFL all along. Look no further than what Greg Ward is doing for the Philadelphia Eagles. He needed everyone under the sun to get injured on the Philly roster to shine but NFL teams missed on him. The AAF helped Ward get to where he is at.
Eric Galko And Optimum
Very early on in the league building process. The XFL hired its own scouting department in Optimum, led by Eric Galko. Optimum Scouting has long scouted college players from all different divisions of play. Eric Galko has scouted and put together rosters for college all-star showcase games like the Dream Bowl. So there’s expertise there in finding and knowing hidden gems.
Doug Whaley, the longtime football personnel evaluator for the Steelers and Bills was hired as the league’s VP of Football Ops. Whaley in recent years has put together the rosters for the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. You could argue that Galko and Whaley are the two most powerful figures in the XFL when it comes to scouting and finding players.
They have been tasked with finding players, forming connections with player agents and aiding the teams in acquiring and drafting talent. A tough task no doubt but was it a perfect one accomplished by Galko, Whaley and their departments. There is human error in every field of work particularly when it comes to evaluating football talent.
One of the arguments against Oliver Luck’s ‘best 560’ claim is the select few players that have been denied entry into the XFL. The biggest oversight has been Pass Rusher Karter Schult. The former Viking was one of the AAF’s very best pass rushers and was graded as such by Pro Football Focus. Yet somehow, Schult is not on an XFL mini-camp roster.
The football argument against Schult is scheme fit. Is he an edge-rushing 4-3 end. Can he stand up and play outside linebacker in the 3-4? These would be legit football questions. However, There’s a grey area when it comes to the XFL’s scouting department, football ops and the team’s football personnel people.
There are thousands of players in the league’s database but only 450 plus will make it onto an XFL roster come February. So not everyone is going to gain entry in the league but Karter Schult’s exclusion is questionable to some avid pro football fans who follow these players very closely.
Excluding the league’s six-figure salary assigned Quarterbacks. The average XFL player will be making 55k per season. Based on incentives, some could make more. The XFL, to its credit, is not trying to fall into the trap that other leagues have by overspending and not being able to absorb the financial burden.
They want to be around in year two. As a first-year league, they would be competing against themselves by paying over 50 to 100 million in player salaries alone in year one. The league is paying tens of millions of dollars on insurance premiums alone. Not to mention all the costs related to stadium venues, travel, lodging, staffing, etc.
The 55k figure may have been a deterrent to some veteran pro football players who would have otherwise considered the XFL. It may be one of the reasons why XFL rosters have skewed to a younger group of players.
There have been some veteran players drafted by XFL teams that opted not to show up.
Like Guardians fullback Tommy Bohanon for example. Some veteran players like Bohanon have invested their money and have other business opportunities in line. So they have opted to not play pro football anymore. In the case of Wildcats draft pick Corey Vereen, who made a similar salary in the AAF last year. He has decided to look at options post-playing career. Vereen’s best path to the NFL would have been playing in the XFL but perhaps that’s a path he is no longer interested in taking. Mentally or physically.
The truth is that there is a player talent bridge between the NFL and XFL. Here’s what I mean by that. There are 2,016 players on 32 NFL rosters right now. 63 per team. 53 each on active rosters and 10 each on practice squads. Then comes the bridge. There are groups of veteran players that are on the outside looking to get back into the NFL.
There were 864 players that didn’t make an NFL roster or practice squad, cut by NFL teams on August 31st. Of those 864, Over 200 of them were drafted by XFL teams. That still leaves over 600 players on the bridge between the NFL and XFL. Players who are still holding out hopes of sneaking onto NFL roster and are not considering or entertaining any other league opportunities.
Often times, the makeup of rosters in a startup pro football league consists of veteran players that have been out of the NFL for a year or more. Their practice squad eligibility has run out. They have exhausted all NFL options and decide to take a look at alternate playing options.
Being a first-year league is very difficult. Especially getting players to trust yet another secondary pro football league after what happened with the AAF. You have to give the XFL a lot of credit for convincing players and agents to invest in their league. Especially some of their quarterbacks like Cardale Jones, Josh Johnson, and Landry Jones.
All 3 could have sat on the sidelines waiting for any possible NFL opportunity that comes along but they decided to take the XFL option instead. Where the XFL is strongest for a first-year league is at Quarterback. The XFL convinced players that were just on NFL rosters like Phillip Walker and Chase Litton to join.
The question of the quality of players on XFL rosters is, Did the XFL get the best of what is left or the best that they can get. It’s a big difference. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
The reality is that if the XFL proves to be a viable league. Then the talent level for year two will only get better for the entire league because more players and agents that are sitting on the fence, will decide to be a part of the league.