Alliance Of American Football

NFC East Rumors: Redskins, Cowboys, Eagles

Redskins quarterback Alex Smith is currently battling a leg infection in his broken fibula and tibia, but he’s still optimistic about resuming his playing career, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). Doctors are removing tissue to clear the infection, but the issue remains extremely serious. Smith’s broken bone punctured his skin, which can result in increased likelihood of infection even though Smith underwent immediate surgery. Washington is now down to its third quarterback of the season in Mark Sanchez, as No. 2 Colt McCoy is also done for the year after suffering a fractured fibula of his own.

Here’s more from the NFC East:

  • Although Sean Lee himself has indicated he’ll be ready to play on Sunday, the Cowboys may hold out the veteran linebacker until Week 15, per Rapoport (Twitter link). When he does return, Dallas will need to decide how to divvy up its snaps in the second level of its defense. Lee, of course, is a superstar when on the field, but Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith are both immensely capable, as well. Pro Football Focus grades both Vander Esch and Smith as top-seven linebackers league-wide, and Vander Esch is in consideration for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Given that NFL clubs are using nickel (two-linebacker) packages on more than two-thirds of plays, one of the Cowboys’ ‘backers will have to take a back seat.
  • Although he’s now the Redskinsbackup quarterback, Josh Johnson still intends to play for the Alliance of American Football’s San Diego Fleet in spring 2019, tweets Rapoport. Johnson was protected as the first overall pick in a recent AAF draft, and he’ll suit up when the league begins its season next year. One of several quarterbacks — including Landry Jones and Ryan Mallett — who worked out for Washington after Smith went down, Johnson had the edge given his history with head coach Jay Gruden. He’s the only signal-caller behind Sanchez on the Redskins’ depth chart.
  • The Eagles‘ offensive struggles shouldn’t be blamed on offensive coordinator Mike Groh, argues Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Groh, notably, doesn’t call the plays in Philadelphia, as head coach Doug Pederson holds those duties. The Eagles suffered a major brain drain this offseason, losing both ex-OC Frank Reich to the Colts and ex-QBs coach John DeFilippo to the Vikings, and now rank just 20th in offensive DVOA after finishing eighth a season ago.

Christian Hackenberg Signs With AAF

Former Jets second-round pick Christian Hackenberg has agreed to play for the Alliance of American Football, according to an announcement from the league. He’ll be joined by quarterback Scott Tolzien, wide receiver DeMarcus Ayers, safety Rahim Moore, linebacker Steven Johnson, and tight end Wes Saxton, the AAF says. 

The AAF will kick off in February, meaning that Hackenberg has likely exhausted all present options in the NFL. Hackenberg never saw the field in his two seasons with the Jets and failed to hook on with the Raiders after an offseason trade brought him to Oakland. After that, he lasted only a few weeks on the Eagles’ 90-man roster and his stint on the Bengals’ practice squad ended when he was released earlier this month.

Hackenberg became Penn State’s all-time leader in passing yards (8,457) and touchdowns (48) after three years on campus. His stats did not jump off of the page and he completed just 53.5% of his passes in his final collegiate season, but NFL teams were enamored by his size and pro-style experience in 2016. Jets GM Mike Maccagnan reached for him at No. 51 overall and that gamble never paid off.

AAF contracts probably include an out clause for NFL offers, so Hackenberg and the league’s other players could conceivably get back into the NFL in the second half of the season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Bengals, Lewis, Eagles, Foles, Chiefs, AAF

The Bengals are counting on some new coaching roles making a major difference this season. Marvin Lewis survived another year on the hot seat but knew he would need to rearrange his staff after another disappointing season. Teryl Austin will succeed now-Raiders DC Paul Guenther in running Cincinnati’s defense, and Lewis made Bill Lazor the full-time OC. The team jettisoned longtime offensive line coach Paul Alexander as well, with other new staffers coming in to help a team that’s fallen in the AFC hierarchy the past two years.

I made up my mind I wanted to coach,” Lewis said, via Jonathan Jones of SI.com. “So, do I want to go start over somewhere where I don’t know the people or coach these group of guys downstairs that no one else has? That’s an easy decision. You look at what’s open and these are the best players. And that’s what you want.

I knew we were going to have a lot of change on the coaching staff. I knew I had to make changes and those are the things that (owner) Mike (Brown) and I had to discuss. I had to make changes on people that had been with me for a long time and had been friends, and it’s difficult.”

Lewis added that he didn’t want to make wholesale roster changes, pointing out the number of Pro Bowlers still on the team, but the Bengals aren’t receiving much attention as a contender this season. They’re hoping these staff moves can re-route them back to the AFC playoffs.

Here’s the latest from the football landscape:

  • The Eagles received a scare Thursday night when Super Bowl MVP and temporary starting quarterback Nick Foles went down with a shoulder injury. The shoulder sprain Foles suffered is believed to be a minor malady and not one that will require a significant rehab effort, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports. It’s looking like it will come down to the wire on whom the defending Super Bowl champions will start at quarterback on opening night, with Carson Wentz unlikely to play in the preseason. The Eagles not having Foles would throw a major wrench in their plans, despite third-stringer Nate Sudfeld having a nice offseason.
  • Steven Nelson will be a full-time outside cornerback this season, Lynn Worthy of the Kansas City Star notes. This change emerged in the offseason, one that featured breakout slot man Kendall Fuller’s arrival, but the Chiefs are evidently committed to trying Nelson – their most frequent slot corner over the past two seasons – as an outside man. The 2015 third-round pick is entering a contract year. While Kansas City has looked at other corners this month – Bashaud Breeland and Orlando Scandrick – the trio of Fuller, Nelson and David Amerson remains atop the depth chart. Nelson did leave the Chiefs’ game Friday night with a head injury, however.
  • Former Jets second-round pick Stephen Hill and ex-Titans backup quarterback Zach Mettenberger are two of the notable new names signed on to play for the Alliance of American Football. The AAF announced 100 more players will join. Ex-Rams running back Daryl Richardson, former Saints and Jets ball carrier Khiry Robinson, linebacker Deontae Skinner and running back Storm Johnson are among the new contingent. Former Giants and Ravens safety Will Hill and veteran kicker Nick Novak, who was with the Chargers last season, were among the first wave to sign.

Michael Vick To Coach In AAF

A former franchise quarterback will add his name to the growing list of high-profile ex-NFL players, coaches and executives who will work with the Alliance of American Football.

Michael Vick‘s set to be affiliated with the AAF, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com reports. Vick will call plays for the Brad Childress-coached Atlanta franchise.

Vick worked with Childress recently as well, serving as a coaching intern with the Chiefs during their 2017 training camp when Childress was on Kansas City’s staff. Vick last played for the 2015 Steelers. The former Falcons quarterback joins Troy Polamalu, Hines Ward and Jared Allen in attaching their names to the new venture.

At least one NFL team is also helping the AAF prepare for what figures to be an interesting talent-gathering period. The Bears provided the AAF’s Phoenix franchise’s GM, Phil Savage, a list of players to scout while he was at Chicago’s camp, Fowler notes. The AAF plans to primarily target players that don’t make NFL rosters this year.

Set to launch in February 2019, the eight-team league has its head coaches signed up and contract structure set at three-year, $250K agreements. The $83K-per-year contracts, which include out clauses in case an NFL team comes calling, are non-guaranteed and fall well short of NFL practice squad salaries (up to $129K for a 17-week season this season). But NFL practice squad spots will assuredly be more coveted real estate than AAF rosters next year. Although, incentives will be available in these AAF deals, and marketing and public appearances can trigger these bonuses, per Fowler. Set for a 2020 debut, the XFL is planning to pay players $75K per year, which will make for interesting bidding wars as these leagues attempt to find their footing.

NFL personnel have lamented the lack of a developmental league in the years since NFL Europe’s demise, and Fowler writes the AAF may be closer to the NBA’s G League, rather than serving as competition.

Our objective is to take some of those people who can’t quite make it and make them into quality NFL players,” AAF exec Bill Polian said, via Fowler.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Giants, Eli, Chiefs, Cowboys

To the dismay of many analysts, the Giants didn’t use the second overall pick on a franchise quarterback, instead opting to select running back Saquon Barkley, who figures to make a more immediate impact. Incumbent signal-caller Eli Manning, however, was — perhaps obviously — pleased with New York’s decision not to draft his successor. “It was kind of a vote of confidence in that they trusted in me that I can play at a high level, can win games, take us deep in playoffs and win championships and win championships still,” Manning said, per SiriusXM NFL Radio. “And you know what? I want to prove them right and I want to make them look smart and make them to have made the right decision in doing that.” The Giants are going all-in with Manning under center, and are hoping new head coach Pat Shurmur can do for Manning what he did for journeyman Case Keenum in Minnesota in 2017. Last year, the 37-year-old Manning finished just 23rd in both adjusted net yards per attempt and passer rating.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Chiefs second-round defensive end Breeland Speaks had been on Kansas City’s radar for awhile, as general manager Brett Veach explained (link via Josh Norris of Rotoworld). After initially grading Speaks as a third-round pick, the Chiefs quickly realized that not only would Speaks likely be off the board by the time their third-rounder came up, but he might not even be available when Kansas City selected at No. 54 in the second round. Therefore, the Chiefs sent a third-round pick to the Bengals for the right to move up to No. 46, and took Speaks — an Ole Miss product — there instead. Speaks, whom Veach characterized as a “high-motor, intense player,” will vie for rotational snaps in Kansas City’s 3-4 scheme behind starters Chris Jones and Allen Bailey.
  • Defensive tackle Maliek Collins isn’t a lock to return for the Cowboys‘ Week 1 contest after breaking his foot in May, and if the third-year interior defender doesn’t recover quickly, he could lose his starting job to trade acquisition Jihad Ward, according to Jori Epstein of the Dallas Morning News. Collins underwent a similar foot operation in January and underwent a foot procedure in the 2016 offseason as well, so he’s no stranger to lower extremity issues. Collins, who was selected in the third round of the 2016 draft, is even more critical given that fellow defensive tackle David Irving is suspended for the first four games of the season. Ward, meanwhile, managed to play in only five games a season ago before being shipped to Dallas in exchange for wideout Ryan Switzer.
  • The Alliance of American Football will offer players non-guaranteed three-year, $225K contracts, which puts them in line with the XFL’s pay scale, writes Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. Additionally, AAF players will be allowed to leave their contracts in order to join the NFL, indicating a policy which differs from that of the Canadian Football League. The AAF will allocate players to rosters based on where they attended college, which should help draw fans. “If the Birmingham teams has [former Alabama running back] Trent Richardson, we think that will be something that would be a significant gate attraction,” league co-founder Bill Polian said.

Latest On Birmingham, San Antonio AAF Franchises

Last year, then-Eagles executive Trey Brown interviewed for the Bills’ GM job. Last month, however, Brown was no longer listed on the Eagles’ front office roster.

Now, the experienced scouting exec will latch on with an Alliance of American Football Franchise. The 33-year-old Brown will be part of the AAF’s Birmingham franchise, serving in its front office, Alex Marvez of the Sporting News reports (on Twitter).

Additionally, the Birmingham franchise will hire former Giants and Steelers defensive coordinator Tim Lewis as its first head coach, per Marvez. Lewis’ most recent NFL job was 49ers DBs coach in 2015. Former Browns, Panthers and Bills OC Joe Pendry will also serve as a Birmingham exec, Marvez reports.

As for the San Antonio franchise, former Cowboys fullback and current Fox analyst Daryl Johnston is expected to be named GM, Marvez tweets. Former Chargers head coach Mike Riley is expected to be the San Antonio HC.

Brown spent eight seasons as an NFL scout/exec, breaking into the league with the Patriots in 2010 and spending five years with the Eagles. He earned multiple promotions, one involving a climb to the post of Eagles director of college scouting in 2016, and was viewed as a rising star in the executive ranks. This led to the Bills interviewing him for the GM job that went to Brandon Beane.

Lewis interviewed to become the Redskins’ secondary coach in 2017 and the Cowboys’ DBs boss in 2016. The 56-year-old coach spent nine seasons on Bill Cowher‘s staffs from 1995-03 and was Tom Coughlin‘s first DC with the Giants.

The Chargers’ HC from 1999-01, Riley just recently accepted a job as an assistant head coach at Oregon State. He served as the Beavers’ HC from 2003-14 before serving as Nebraska’s head coach for three seasons. His last NFL gig came as a Saints assistant in 2002. Pendry’s previous pro coaching gig came as Texans offensive line coach in the 2000s.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: AAF, Dolphins, Ray, Broncos

The Alliance of American Football is set to debut this winter. While the league is expected to provide an alternative for NFL fans, founder Charlie Ebersol said they aren’t intending to put their counterpart out of business.

“It’s a positive relationship,” Ebersol told Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com. “One of the reasons that we made the contract the way we do for the players where they have an out to go to back to the NFL is because we recognize the fact just like the MLS recognizes the fact that the Premier League is ultimately gonna pay players more and put them on a bigger stage than the MLS will. They support that. We support the same concepts. I think that it’s a foolish to try to pick a fight with a $150 billion business when you’re starting up and when you’re also not competing. I mean none of my content touches any of their content. Ultimately, it’s a complementary, positive relationship.”

Ebersol touched on several additional points during the interview, including the ability for players to switch to the NFL should they receive an offer.

Let’s take a look at some other notes from around the NFL…

  • Dolphins second-round tight end Mike Gesicki has yet to impress during the media portions of practices. While the Penn State product clearly has some work to do, it sounds like Miami’s coaching staff is optimistic about the prospect’s future in the NFL. “Mike is a little bit unique,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains told Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald. “[Durham Smythe] is a ‘Y’ and Mike G is more of a … We’ve got to find out exactly what he can and can’t do and what he can and can’t handle early. As the season goes and the offseason goes and training camp, his package will expand and his routes will expand as we found out what he can and can’t do.” To start the season, Gesicki is expected to backup A.J. Derby.
  • Beasley writes that filling Ndamukong Suh‘s role is easier said than done. However, several Dolphins players could be ready for the challenge, and the writer specifically points to 2017 third-rounder Vincent Taylor. “It’s hard losing a guy like Suh just knowing what he’s capable of doing; but at the end of the day, it’s a business decision,” Taylor said. “I know all of the things when I was coming in, what he taught me, so I learned some of the things that he taught me.”
  • The Broncos declined to pick up Shane Ray‘s fifth-year option. As a result, Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post believes the injured linebacker should take as long as he needs to recover from wrist surgery. The writer explains that returning early and re-aggravating the injury could hurt Ray’s market value. However, if the linebacker is productive and healthy in a lesser playing sample, he still might be able to secure a lucrative contract. The 2015 first-rounder had a disappointing season in 2017, compiling only 16 tackles and one sack in eight games (seven starts).
  • O’Halloran also observes that Broncos tight end Jake Butt has been an offensive standout during practices. “It’s our responsibility as tight ends and slot (receivers) to win one-on-one match-ups on the inside,” he said. “We’ve got to make plays when our number is called to take a little bit of pressure off those guys (Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders) on the outside.” Butt could end up with the starting gig in Denver, but he’ll have to compete with a grouping that includes Jeff Heuerman and Troy Fumagalli.

Johnny Manziel Weighing Options

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL would like to sign Johnny Manziel, but the former Browns standout has reservations about going north of the border. Specifically, Manziel is wary of the CFL’s policy that players must commit for two seasons. With that in mind, Manziel is also considering the upstart Alliance of American Football, Mike Florio of PFT hears. 

[RELATED: AAF To Launch In February 2019]

Manziel is reportedly willing to accept a practice squad deal with no guaranteed money to prove that he belongs in the NFL, but it’s not clear if any teams are interested at this time. It’s possible that teams could give more serious thought to signing Manziel once they start releasing players, including undrafted free agents that aren’t up to par, from the 90-man roster.

The former Heisman Trophy winner would probably draw some serious dollars for the Tiger-Cats and the CFL as a whole, so it’s conceivable that the league could amend its policy to accommodate him. Meanwhile, the Tiger-Cats made a trade with the Montreal Alouettes this week that could give them the cap space necessary to give Manziel a contract worth more than the league minimum.

The AAF will launch in February 2019 – just after the Super Bowl – so Manziel will have to wait a while if that’s the route he plans to take.

 

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Alliance Of American Football To Launch In 2019

WWE boss Vince McMahon is planning to re-launch the XFL in 2020, but he’ll have some serious competition in his bid to become the nation’s top competitor to the NFL. Charlie Ebersol, who directed a documentary on the XFL last year, has founded the Alliance of American Football, a league that will debut on Feb. 9, 2019. 

Unlike the XFL, Ebersol’s league already has a television deal in place. The league’s first game and championship games will air on CBS, while the CBS Sports Network will carry one game per week. Other games will be available via the AAF’s app.

The league, which will host its first game one week after Super Bowl LIII, will have a 10-week season and 50-man rosters. The players will be cast from the NFL’s scraps, meaning that it can be a way for those on the fringes of the league to showcase themselves for 90-man roster spots in the NFL.

Former NFL GM Bill Polian and Steelers safety Troy Polamalu are involved in the operations side while former NFL players Hines Ward and Justin Tuck will serve as advisors. Charlie’s father, famed television producer and former XFL partner Dick Ebersol will also serve on the advisory board.

Many football leagues have come and gone over the years, but the younger Ebersol says that he is taking a long-term approach.

I think where businesses like this fail is that they expect to have ludicrous and unrealistic ticket and media deal projections in Year 1,” Ebersol said. “Our investors here understand that it’s a seven- to 10-year plan.”