In the buildup the draft, it’s the question on everyone’s minds: Who will play in the new league? Commissioner Oliver Luck has sent out 800 invitations, and we’ve already seen players like Landry Jones make a commitment.
A 4-year starter at Oklahoma, Jones passed for 16k yards and 123 TDs. He excelled in current XFL Coach Bob Stoops’ offense and was selected by the Steelers with a 4th round pick.
In reserve action (18 games, 5 starts) behind Big Ben, he posted a respectable 86.2 rating but was passed over as the Steelers took another young QB in Mason Rudolph.
Looking ahead at his career, he’s recognized early that the XFL is a great track for him to play ball at the pro level, rather than bounce around the NFL as a reserve.
Yet the NFL remains the sterling standard for players wanting to go pro, so why would anyone choose to play for an upstart XFL? It comes down to opportunity.
It’s hard enough for rookies to adjust to the speed of the NFL, but practice reps and preseason showings don’t equate a lot of experience. While other sports have minor leagues to help bring young players along, football players have had to make do.
Gone are the days of the USFL and NFL Europe, where players like Steve Young, Kurt Warner and more could get reps in real action to refine their game. Time to learn in NFL Camps is limited, and success at the team facility doesn’t exactly translate to the stadium.
Even good preseason play doesn’t mean a player will see meaningful snaps.
Take Kyle Sloter for example. The 25-year-old is sitting on the Arizona Cardinals practice squad with essentially no chance to be “the guy” behind #1 pick Kyler Murray.
Yet every time he’s seen the field, he’s been dominant. In three consecutive preseasons, he’s completed 76% of his passes for 1,222 yards, 11 TDs, and only 1 INT. He’s yet to see the field, and in the NFL, there’s the chance he never may.
Talented players who constantly get overlooked in favor of established veterans and early rounders will be taking a long look at the XFL, which offers them a platform to play ball and make six figures.
A Chance to Win
Opportunity for growth off the field is stunted, yet throwing players who aren’t ready into the fire isn’t the greatest option either. Starting untested players on bad teams is a great way to ruin their confidence and distort the way they’re viewed around the league.
For the past two decades until Baker Mayfield, the Cleveland Browns have absolutely ruined quarterback talent, including 7 first-round draft picks, 5 established veterans and innumerable journeyman backups.
The situation matters just as much as the player when it comes to development and performance.
Someone like Josh Rosen, a former first-round talent who’s been thrown into awful situations, might want to suit up for the XFL and prove to the world that he’s capable of playing at a pro-level.
Players with the bust label like Laquon Treadwell, Robert Nkemdiche and Kevin White might want to leave the NFL and prove they can play ball.
Earning a Living
While the hotly politicized debate over College athlete pay picks up steam, the XFL could offer another solution for prospects.
Much like the NBA, MLB, and NHL, the XFL does not require players to be three years removed from high school to play. Should a top-level recruit want to play in the pros and get a paycheck, the standard NCAA-NFL pipeline might not be his best option.
In the XFL, a player could make anything from 50k-600k per season, plus endorsements. For young talent, this could be incredibly appealing and rewarding in exchange for getting an opportunity to play at the professional level.
That kind of money can at least pay for college, and at most, completely change life for the player and their family. Some players are ready sooner than others and don’t wish to be held back.
Chasing the Dream
Roster turnover in football can be brutal. A wrongly timed injury or draft pick can put a fan-favorite veteran out on the street. The NFL is a what-have-you-done-lately league, and we’ve seen so many great players wash out simply because there isn’t enough opportunity to go around.
Why do All-Pro players in their prime like Eric Berry go unsigned? Market value and limited roster space mean that elite players can go overlooked in free agency.
From veterans looking for a second chance in the pros to young talent looking to make their way, the XFL provides great opportunities for players to write their stories on the field.
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