After NFL cut-down dust settles, many XFL 2020 and 2023 players earn practice squad spots

Green Bay Packers Daniel Whelan (41) punts during a preseason NFL football game Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023, in Green Bay, Wis. (Mike Roemer / Associated Press)
Green Bay Packers Daniel Whelan (41) punts during a preseason NFL football game Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023, in Green Bay, Wis. (Mike Roemer / Associated Press)

And then there was one.

After more than 60 XFL 2023 players signed contracts with NFL teams in the off-season, just one remains now that 53-man rosters have been established. That would be P Daniel Whelan of the DC Defenders, who upset veteran Pat O’Donnell for the job with the Green Bay Packers. Whelan was originally signed as an undrafted free-agent by the New Orleans Saints in 2022 but was waived at the end of July. He was drafted by the Defenders of the XFL, where he made the All-XFL team as voted on by the league’s head coaches and directors of player personnel. He was the first Defender player signed by an NFL team, on May 17.

This means over 60 XFL players were released by Tuesday at 4pm EST, when rosters had to be at 53. The bloodletting wasn’t just reserved for players from the 2023 version of the XFL. Of the 17 remaining XFL 2020 players on NFL teams in training camp, just six made initial rosters. That’s down from 10 in 2022. However, the saving grace is that several players from both versions of the XFL played well enough to get signed to practice squads.

As of Thursday, five XFL 2020 and 17 XFL 2023 players have been signed to practice squads across the NFL. These numbers will likely fluctuate as the season progresses. Bookmark, where we’ll keep you updated on any changes as well as the progress of these players throughout the year. Here are those still alive in kicking in the NFL:

Both LS Scott Daly (Guardians) and LS Christian Kuntz (Renegades) warded off competition in camp to regain their roster spots with the Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers respectively. Both enter their third NFL seasons after having played all 17 games in 2021 and 2022. A third 2020 XFL long snapper, LS Nick Moore (Vipers), is out for the season after tearing an Achilles tendon while preparing for camp. He was placed on the Baltimore Ravens’ reserve/non-football injury list.

QB Taylor Heinicke (Battlehawks) moved from Washington to Atlanta in the off-season. He retains his role as a backup, slotting in behind second-year player Desmond Ridder. Ridder is still unproven, so Heinicke may be called upon if things go south for Ridder and the Falcons.

Eternal breakout candidate TE Donald Parham (Renegades) once again will man the backup TE spot for the LA Chargers. Parham will see the field plenty in that role. Whether or not he can reach his potential may depend on his ability to stay healthy, something he has struggled with in three NFL seasons.

An injury suffered in the last preseason game will likely land S Elijah Campbell (Defenders) on injured reserve. By keeping him on the initial 53-man roster before placing him on IR, the Miami Dolphins are able to activate him later on in the season if he returns to health.

With second-string QB Tyler Huntley nursing an injury, the Baltimore Ravens re-signed QB Josh Johnson (Wildcats) on Thursday after releasing him at final cuts. If Huntley can’t go in week one or even is placed on injured reserve, Johnson would be the immediate backup to starter Lamar Jackson.

As for the practice squads, G Michael Dunn (Dragons) was a surprise cut by the Browns on Tuesday. He has played 28 games in the last three years, backing up the interior of Cleveland’s offensive line. He was re-signed to their practice squad. Cleveland also added QB PJ Walker (Roughnecks) after Walker was beaten out for Chicago’s backup QB job by undrafted free-agent Tyson Bagent. Chicago opted to keep Nathan Peterman as well, so now Walker will be #3 for the Browns behind Deshaun Watson and rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

OT Storm Norton (Wildcats) failed to win the swing tackle job in New Orleans, which cost him his roster spot. He was re-signed to the team’s practice squad. The Saints only have four backup linemen on the 53-man roster, so Norton could be a gameday elevation early in the year. LB DeMarquis Gates (Roughnecks) finds himself on the practice squad of the Bears for the second year in a row. He’s one of two linebackers Chicago opted to keep there to open this season.

In Atlanta, the Falcons signed RB Godwin Igwebuike (Dragons) to their practice squad. His special teams ability, both as a returner, blocker, and coverage player, make him a valuable stash. He beat out Carlos Washington, a back Atlanta also had in camp, for the practice squad.

After the first day players could sign to NFL practice squads, 16 XFL 2023 players officially inked deals (John Parker Romo, the 17th, signed a day later). In the nation’s capital, OT Jaryd Jones-Smith (Battlehawks) is one of four Battlehawks brought back following cut-down day. Four offensive linemen were signed to the practice squad by Washington, two of them offensive tackles after they kept just one reserve on the active roster.

Another Battlehawk alum, DT LaCale London (Battlehawks), stood out during the preseason. He, along with two other ex-XFLers, signed with Atlanta’s practice squad. He’s joined there by WR Matthew Sexton (Vipers) and OT Barry Wesley (Sea Dragons). Sexton has special teams value and is one of two receivers on the Falcons’ initial practice squad; likewise, Wesley is one of two offensive tackles among the 14 the team added on Wednesday.

The Bills had a deep receiver corps during training camp and WR Marcell Ateman (Battlehawks) started near the bottom of the depth chart. Buffalo kept six on their active roster and signed four to the practice squad, Ateman among them. That’s a lot of receivers on a list that maxes out at 16; if the Bills need to bring someone onto the practice squad during the season, they may see one of those receivers as expendable.

The good news: QB Ben DiNucci (Sea Dragons) won Denver’s third quarterback job. The bad news: Head Coach Sean Payton chose to keep just two on the active roster, meaning DiNucci will be on the practice squad for the foreseeable future. He’s one play away, however, from earning a call-up. He’s joined there by WR Michael Bandy (Roughnecks), who beat out, in part, Josh Hammond of the Defenders for one of the WR slots.

CB Luq Barcoo (Brahmas) joins Anthony Brown and Josiah Scott as corners on Pittsburgh’s practice squad. The advantage Barcoo has is he knows the system: Brown and Scott were with other teams during training camp, while Barcoo spent the entire summer with the Steelers, theoretically giving him an advantage should the team need to activate a CB early in the season.

Credit the work of DT Matthew Gotel (Brahmas) in a short period of time for making an impression on Seattle’s brass. He was signed on August 17, just two weeks ago, and yet did enough to earn a coveted spot on the team’s practice squad. Fellow DT CJ Brewer (Roughnecks) is back in Tampa, signing with their practice squad after losing the numbers game for an active roster role.

Another late arrival to earn a ticket to the practice squad was RB Brian Hill (Battlehawks) with the San Francisco 49ers. On his second stint with the 49ers (his first being in 2021), Hill signed on August 21 and had time to play in just one preseason game. Yet he returns to the Bay Area as the lone running back on the practice squad.

The New Orleans Saints tied their NFC South rivals the Falcons by keeping three XFL 2023 players on the practice squad: WR Jontre Kirklin (Roughnecks), DT Jack Heflin (Roughnecks) and DE Niko Lalos (Sea Dragons). All three shined at times in the preseason. Heflin and Lalos are two of just three defensive linemen on the practice squad as of this moment.

One of three DC players to land in Minnesota for training camp, WR Lucky Jackson (Defenders) is the only one to make it out with a job on the team. RB DeWayne McBride, a draft pick of the Vikings, beat out Abram Smith to be on the practice squad. Minnesota opted to keep three quarterbacks on its 53-man roster, leaving no room on the practice squad for Jordan Ta’amu.

Carolina is bringing LB Jordan Thomas (Guardians) along slowly after a position switch from tight end to linebacker. Though he didn’t play during the preseason, the Panthers must’ve seen enough potential in practice to continue developing him with the team.

One of the few specialists to be signed to a practice squad thus far, K John Parker Romo (Brahmas) is the only player to sign somewhere other than the team with which he attended camp. Though he lost Detroit’s kicking job to Riley Patterson (the Lions opted to re-sign Michael Badgley to their practice squad), Romo found a spot in Chicago, backing up Cairo Santos, who hit 90% of his field goals last year.

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