One of the biggest and most valid points of contention against the XFL is the uncertainty over where their pool of football talent is going to come from.
Despite a $500 million dollar investment from Vince McMahon, and the announced pay tiers of $250 thousand (plus) per year for top players, and $150 thousand for their second tier players, which would put the XFL as the second highest paying football league, next to the NFL there are still legitimate questions about where the league’s talent pool is going to come from.
With the recent growth in salaries for the CFL and the existence of the AAF, and their three-year 250k total player contracts, the pickings would appear to be very slim. So, that begs the question being asked yet again, “Where will the league get its players, if it’s not from those leagues.”
The XFL can’t and won’t compete for players with the NFL However, the largest bulk of the XFL’s 2020 rosters will come from the NFL’s roster cuts in September, the time period where the XFL will be having a league wide draft. On September 1st, all 32 NFL teams will cut down from 90 players to 53. That number becomes 63 when the 10 player practice squads are finalized. That brings the total of players without NFL jobs after cut down day to 864. That’s 27 players cut per team who won’t land on an NFL roster. Multiply this by 32 and you got 864 players. There will be competition for some of these players from other leagues, but the advantage of starting a new league is the other leagues already have hundreds of players under contract. They are not going to cut 300 players to sign 300 new players. Even still, their leagues are not big enough to field 800 players.
The XFL will be fielding 8 teams with 45-man rosters and 7-player practice squads. That means that their league’s eight active rosters will have a maximum of 416 total players. Certainly not all of them will be from this crop of 864. Oliver Luck mentioned in a recent interview that the league plans on signing 450 players overall. Those who are not drafted into the XFL will remain under league contract. They will be available to be signed when injuries occur.
Some of the players that don’t make NFL rosters will be veterans. There will be veterans cut, who don’t make it to their second or in most cases, third contracts. There was an interesting study from the NFL last season, reported by long-time NFL reporter John Clayton. In 2018, The average NFL player experience level went down from 5 years to 4.3,meaning the league continues to get younger. The NFL went from 860 players in 2017, who had three-years or more experience in the league, to just a little over 600 in 2018.
There are several unsigned veteran NFL players who are on the outside looking in right now with no jobs in any league. Names like Terrelle Pryor, Landry Jones, Chad Kelly, EJ Manuel, Christine Michael, Matt Jones, etc. There are over 200 of these types of players, still looking for a way back into the NFL. The problem is that every year the NFL adds over 300 rookies to their roster through the draft and undrafted free agents. That’s 300 new rookies coming into the league, which means that over 300 current players lose their jobs. Excluding the likes of players like Colin Kaepernick, Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel, there are hundreds of unsigned NFL vets in that 27-30 year-old range that could end up being targets for the XFL. Usually not the type of players that developmental leagues look towards signing.
The real challenge for the XFL will be trying to convince a player like Cardale Jones or Braxton Miller, to forgo any practice squad spot to play in their league. It would take a serious sell job to pull this off. While the maximum contract for a 16-week NFL practice squad player is 120K a season, which would be less than The XFL’s 250K a year salary. The mere possibility of making it back onto an NFL roster, could sway players to ride the season out, in the hopes that they carry a clipboard on Sundays. It would take some influence from the XFL’s coaches and the league’s CEO in Oliver Luck to convince a player that getting game reps will make them a better player in the long haul and more money.
A portion of the XFL’s rosters figure to be made up of players who do not make it into an NFL camp. On average every year, there are over 12,000 draft eligible college football players, and only 256 of them get drafted. Up to 100 undrafted free agents or so, end up cycling into the league or making rosters. So, that leaves a good number of college football players without anywhere to go.
The XFL has an “in” with this department because of their scouting department in Optimum Scouting, and with XFL Vice President Doug Whaley. Optimum and Whaley have both been in charge of putting together rosters for college football all-star games in recent years. Whaley has been the director of the NFL PA Collegiate Bowl the last two years. Eric Galko and Optimum Scouting has not only scouted all of the primary college all-star games like the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Games, but Eric Galko has been in charge of compiling rosters for games like The Dream Bowl, a collegiate all-star game featuring players from small schools.
The XFL’s football operations department has direct knowledge of the entire pool of college players that are looking to become pros. This will help them in the process of finding the hidden gems that may be overlooked. It’s worth noting that Eric Galko also works with “Your Call Football,” a tech based company that allows fans to choose from a select group of plays on each snap. Two teams comprised of former NFL players and hopefuls play a series of games, starting this coming Monday. The XFL is expected to do their next round of game and rules testing with these players. In fact, several of these players wound up in NFL camps, and in the CFL, after last year’s series of games. This March, the XFL’s football department will also be working with the Spring League, a series of games and teams that feature former NFL players and hopefuls. Players from both the TSL and YCF rosters could end up in the XFL.
There is yet another element that could potentially benefit the XFL in their quest to recruit college football talent. Coaches like Bob Stoops and Pep Hamilton have direct knowledge and experience in recruiting. Players that ended up with their program and players that didn’t. Both XFL Head Coach/General Managers have recent knowledge of players in big schools and big conferences, that they have coached, and coached against. Their recruiting knowledge will help them pinpoint and acquire talent.
There is a taboo area of College Football, that hasn’t been touched upon yet here. As many know, the XFL has left open the possibility of signing college football players who are not yet eligible to be drafted into the NFL. The group of players from college could be one or two-year players, or even players who do not want to transfer or sit out a year. This could also extend to players who are on the Junior College Level. Players that may have big time program talent, but not the grades, or that may have some character issues. There likely won’t be a large number of players from this group, but the door is open for this possibility. If a big named player were to sign, that could open up the possibility for more prominent college players taking the plunge. This leads to the next potential pool of players.
Probably more controversial than a 2-year college player deciding to turn pro in the XFL, is the possibility of a high school football player forgoing college to become a pro-football player. The arguments against this are valid. From a physical maturity standpoint, it’s easy to understand why people would object to this. For a football player to be able to turn pro immediately after high school, he would have to be a rare physical specimen along the likes of a Herschel Walker or Adrian Peterson. The odds are against this happening, and if it does it will be on a very small scale. I don’t see more than a handful even trying out for the league, but once this door is opened, there’s no closing it. The idea is not so crazy for Tom Brady’s agent Don Yee, who is starting the Pacific Pro League, specifically to sign high school football players. I don’t see the XFL entertaining this at a grand scale. Perhaps a player or two at most could come from this pool.
There are so many unanswered questions about the XFL, like their still unannounced TV deal, to their league plans of presentation and talent. There are so many doubters of the league, and rightfully so, based on the league’s past, the history of upstart leagues and the current landscape of pro football.
There’s a quote by famous American Poet, Author and Philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson that goes, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” This is the approach the XFL will be taking. Perhaps some of it by choice, and some if it out of necessity.
Mike was one of the original XFLBoard.com Team Reporters in 2001. We welcome him back to the XFLBoard and look forward to his insightful contributions.