Daniel Whelan becomes the first D.C. Defender to sign with NFL team

D.C. Defenders punter Daniel Whelan.
D.C. Defenders punter Daniel Whelan.

The D.C. Defenders’ 2023 season came to an unfortunate end last Saturday with their loss to the Arlington Renegades in the XFL Championship. However, just four days later, punter Daniel Whelan signed with the Green Bay Packers, becoming the first Defender to sign with an NFL team.

The Irish native didn’t punt much during the 2023 campaign due to the high productivity of the Defenders’ offense. But when he did, he was dangerous, as 13 of his 34 punts ended within D.C’s 20-yard line. His boot is NFL-worthy, as he averaged 46.5 yards per punt for 1,537 yards in 12 games with the Defenders during the season. His furthest punt came during week five against the St. Louis Battlehawks, where this 66-yard screamer pinned the Battlehawks deep in their territory:

Last year, Whelan was cut from the New Orleans Saints after losing the position battle during training camp to 25-year-old Blake Gillikin. Whelan had signed with the Saints as an undrafted free agent following the 2022 NFL Draft. 

With his new team, Whelan faces veteran Pat O’Donnell in his position battle, who joined the Packers in 2022 after eight years with the Chicago Bears. While the odds are stacked against Whelan, his placekicking versatility from his college days adds value to his stock.

Although he’s the first from his team to do so, he certainly won’t be the last, with other All-XFL players like Abram Smith and Lucky Jackson well in line to get shots at an NFL camp this summer. And as this is published, 20 other guys who played in the XFL have received NFL contracts. This is significant, considering the window for NFL eligibility for XFL players only opened on Monday.

All participants in the XFL Championship game also missed the window to participate in NFL rookie minicamps, unlike some of their peers whose teams had already been eliminated. However, the opportunities are boundless with their film from the XFL and more tryouts on the horizon.

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