Alliance Of American Football

Extra Points: Military Academies, Cutting, Vikings, AAF, Westerman, Bengals

One of the couple dozen recent draft picks who has yet to sign his rookie deal is Austin Cutting. Cutting, the 250th overall pick of the Vikings, is the only seventh-round pick who hasn’t signed. Cutting is a recent graduate of the Air Force Academy, which is what has been holding things up. Once President Trump took office, his administration overturned an Obama-era rule that permitted recent graduates from pursuing careers as professional athletes before fulfilling their service. Now, the Trump administration has changed its mind, per Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic.

The administration has issued a presidential memorandum that “will essentially reinstate the protocol” Obama established in 2016, per Jhabvala. The rule under Obama was overturned so quickly that it barely had time to take effect. Coaches at the various academies have long argued that it’ll help with recruiting if their athletes can go pro. Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said that Cutting will “absolutely” be allowed to play for the Vikings now. It’ll be interesting to see what effect this new policy has on the programs of Navy, Army, and the Air Force moving forward.

Here’s more from around the football universe:

  • Another day, more drama surrounding the collapse of the Alliance of American Football. Since its demise, it’s become clearer and clearer that the ill-fated spring football league was doomed from the start. We’ve heard varying tales of incompetence and mismanagement, and now we have further fireworks. Charlie Ebersol, one of the league’s founders, is firing back at players who filed a class-action lawsuit against him and other founders, saying it was the players who committed fraud, per Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com. It’s a bold strategy by Ebersol, who is arguing that players should be “barred from claiming any injuries or damages because such injuries and damages are the sole, direct and proximate result of Plaintiffs’ conduct.” We’ll keep you updated as the lawsuit progresses.
  • The Bengals were dealt a tough blow last week when it was announced Jonah Williams would likely miss the entire 2019 season due to shoulder surgery. Cincinnati was counting on the 11th overall pick to be their starting left tackle, and they’ll now have to slide Cordy Glenn over from left guard in his place. That also means they’ll have to find someone to replace Glenn at left guard. For right now Christian Westerman “appears to be option one” for the role, although there will be a camp battle for starting duties, Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic hears. Westerman is a 2016 fifth-round pick who has played sparingly in his three years in the league. He’s only made two starts in his career, both of which came in 2017. It’s not an ideal situation, but Cincy’s offensive line can’t be any worse than it was last year.

XFL Commish Talks AAF, Recruiting, QBs

World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon is the big name associated with the upcoming XFL, but the league’s commissioner has the difficult job of building a successful infrastructure. Fortunately, Oliver Luck, the father of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, is more than qualified for the position; following an NFL career, Luck earned his law degree before running MLS teams and collegiate programs.

Luck is now tasked with running an alternative option to the NFL, something that several of the league’s predecessors have failed to do. Several months ago, it looked like the XFL would be going head-to-head with the Alliance of American Football, but now they’re the only reputable spring league. The eight teams are already ramping up their efforts for a 2020 debut, and each organization has a head coach in place.

Now, the league is turning their attention to attracting players. In October, about 300 participants from the XFL’s Summer Showcase will be signed and entered into a draft pool, at which time the eight teams will fill the “bottom half” of their rosters. The league will look to fill the rest of their rosters with players who are cut loose by NFL squads following the preseason (more than 850 players will be released at that time). The XFL will have another chance to add players in January, when practice squads end and players aren’t retained via futures contracts.

Luck talked with Greg Auman of The Athletic about the XFL’s plan for recruiting players and what he’s learned from the AAF. The entire article is worth a read, but we’ve compiled some of the notable soundbites below.

On what he learned from the defunct Alliance of American Football, which is still dealing with fallout despite shutting down in April:

“I was speaking with Vince, and one of the questions he asked was ‘What are you worried about?’ I said ‘I think schedule-wise, etc., we’re in pretty good shape, but I do worry though about players’ motivations after the other league collapsed.’ I’m really looking forward to all these showcases, today included, to talk to these guys and it’s been very refreshing to see they just want to play more football. They know where our eight teams are, they know who our head coaches are, they trust we’re going to have a game that’s not too outlandish or crazy. To see the motivation and excitement these guys have has been good for us. It took away any doubt I had that players might say ‘Oh, gosh, another spring league. I don’t want to do that. They never make it.’ That sort of thing. That was important.”

On both the successes and failures of the AAF:

“We watched them closely. Personally, there was no dancing on the grave, no schadenfreude. I was hoping they’d make it through their championship game. … It’s helped us a little bit, reaffirmed our model. The AAF also made some mistakes. (The Apollos), in the sports business, that’s like a pilot forgetting to turn the engine on.”

On NFL-ineligible collegiate players who may spurn the NCAA for professional football (the NFL requires players to be at least three years out of high school):

“We won’t have many, but we’ll have a couple. They’ll be some guys with college eligibility still who say ‘I’d rather go earn sixty grand’ … anybody is eligible. Having said that, as I’ve said to our head coaches, I want to make sure the younger guy is physically, mentally, emotionally mature enough to play. If you’ve got a guy who played a year of ball at Florida State, got a lot of snaps and stuff.”

On whether the NFL is focused on attracting younger players or veterans:

“We have to be able to make sure that some of the older guys can make it through, to be blunt. We have to make sure some of younger guys know what it means to be a professional. I think there will be a combination of guys. We want to be a league of opportunity.”

On attracting (relatively) big-name quarterbacks to join the XFL (Luck specifically focused on the Seahawks backup gig between Geno Smith and Paxton Lynch, noting that the “loser” could realistically make just as much money in the alternative league):

“We’re watching the backup quarterback camp battles. One of these guys is going to get cut. There’s a bunch of those going on. We might not get all of those guys, the quote-unquote loser of those, but a Geno or Paxton is not going to end up on a practice squad. There are a bunch of 3-4-5-year guys that are in that boat. They’ve been on rosters, practice squad, been yo-yo’d two years. They need to play, and that’s my argument to them, that it’s very doable here.”

Extra Points: Edelman, AAF, XFL

We haven’t heard a whole lot about the defunct Alliance of American Football since the league suspended operations back in April. However, according to Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic, former league owner Tom Dundon has filed “as an unsecured creditor” for the AAF and is claiming he was convinced to buy the league via “misrepresentations.” Dundon is seeking the entirety of the $70MM he invested in the company.

The league initial secured financing from Reggie Fowler, who is currently under indictment for bank fraud. That’s when Dundon, who owns the Carolina Hurricanes, entered into the equation, as he helped make up for Fowler’s failed commitment by purchasing the league. At the time, the perception inside the league office is that Dundon simply purchased a majority stake in the company to obtain the technology behind its gambling app.

However, a lawyer told Kaplan that Dundon may have two new objectives. For starters, he was looking to “remove himself from any litigation from creditors.” Second, by opting for the “misrepresentation” charge, the league’s executive/board insurance policies could come into play, which would then “open a new pool of money.”

Let’s check out some more notes from around the football world…

  • Dundon will have a difficult time convincing the courts that he’s not responsible for the AAF’s $48MM in liabilities, reports Roy Cummings of Florida Football Insiders. Specially, when Dundon “assumed all of the operational costs,” this meant he was responsible for making payroll. Furthermore, his public declarations that he would continue to invest money (around $250MM) into the league indicates that he was both prepared and capable to pay for any debts. Finally, considering Dundon’s standing as the Hurricanes owner, he has millions of dollars coming in each year that could be used to pay off creditors.
  • Former NFL safety Rahim Moore auditioned for the XFL last week, according to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com. The 2011 second-rounder bounced around the NFL during his professional career, and he started 41 games for the Broncos between 2012 and 2014. The 29-year-old recently participated in the AAF, and he understands that an opportunity in the XFL would also come with its fair share of risks. “It’s still football, you know?” Moore said. “There’s a risk in everything you do. But if you love something, man, just go do it.”
  • Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman is currently on a promotional tour for an upcoming documentary, and the Patriots wide receiver discussed what he went through during his four-game suspension to start last season. “It was a low time,” Edelman said (via Florio). “You’re already battling mentally if you can do it like you did it. And then all of a sudden you have this, you’re dealing with this, and then you’re dealing with everyone outside of your life and what people are saying and dealing with and you can’t really get too involved into because you’re ultimately trying to get yourself back to playing football. It’s not like you’re 100 percent going out here and dealing with all these things, and you’re fine. You still have a task at hand, and that was one of the biggest parts of my journey back — one of the toughest times where I really had to compartmentalize with how to deal with my injury, my suspension, with being a balanced family member and getting back from my injury. And that was a very tough time. . . . It was honestly — it was probably the toughest time of my life at that point.”

Extra Points: Wilson, Vikings, McLeod, AAF

More details of Russell Wilson‘s landmark extension are emerging. Wilson’s 2020 and ’21 base salaries — $19MM apiece — will become fully guaranteed if he is on the Seahawks roster five days after Super Bowls LIV and LV, respectively. With that a near-certainty, Wilson’s $107MM in total guarantees are practically full guarantees. Wilson will earn a $19MM base salary in 2022 and ’23, according to OverTheCap. This deal leaves Wilson with cap numbers of $26.29MM (2019), $31MM (2020), $32MM (’21), $37MM (’22) and $39MM (’23). The eighth-year quarterback’s base salary was slated to be $17MM this year; the new deal converted much of that money into a signing bonus, with Wilson now attached to a $5MM base in 2019. The new contract raised Wilson’s 2019 cap number by just $1MM. Additionally, the contract includes a $6MM escalator clause — which would bring the total dollar figure up to $146MM — for Wilson’s 2023 salary, per CBS Sports’ Joel Corry (on Twitter). Unspecified performance-based incentives from 2020-22 can bump the Pro Bowler’s $21MM salary in 2023 to $27MM.

Here is the latest from around the American football landscape:

  • The Vikings are considering moving left tackle Riley Reiff to left guard, but it appears that is contingent on how the draft goes. Reiff will likely only move inside if Minnesota selects a first-round tackle, per Dave Campbell of the Associated Press. Reiff has only played tackle in the NFL. The Vikings “wouldn’t hesitate” to move center Pat Elflein to guard, Campbell adds, but that will also be contingent on the draft. Minnesota failing to add a center worth relocating Elflein would presumably nix that move. Either way, the Vikings’ embattled line will likely look a bit different post-draft.
  • Rodney McLeod will not participate in the Eagles‘ offseason program. The veteran safety, who tore his ACL in Week 3 of last season, is aiming for a training camp return, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Les Bowen notes. McLeod took a major pay cut this offseason, slashing his 2019 salary from $7.5MM to $1.5MM. That can become $4MM, should McLeod play in all 16 Eagles games, Bowen adds. He played in 16 games in each season from 2012-16 and had missed just two in his career prior to the 2018 injury. McLeod signed a five-year deal in 2016, but the contract is now a four-year pact. The restructure voided the 2020 season.
  • No last-ditch effort will save the Alliance of American Football. The league filed for bankruptcy this week. “Pursuant to the bankruptcy laws, a trustee will be empowered to resolve all matters related to the AAF’s remaining assets and liabilities, including ongoing matters related to player contracts,” the league said in a statement. The AAF abruptly halted operations earlier this month, leaving a messy trail of financial turmoil after an eight-game season.

Minor NFL Transactions: 4/17/19

Today’s minor moves:

Arizona Cardinals

  • Signed: OL Brant Weiss (Alliance of American Football)

Chicago Bears

Kansas City Chiefs

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

New York Giants

Oakland Raiders

Pittsburgh Steelers

San Francisco 49ers

Extra Points: Goff, Rams, AAF, Ryan, CFL

It’s been a rollercoaster of a ride for Jared Goff these past few years. The first overall pick back in 2016, a lot of people wrote him off as a bust after his disastrous rookie season. But Goff came alive once he was paired with head coach Sean McVay, and has now made the Pro Bowl each of the last two seasons. This past season, the Rams made it all the way to the Super Bowl but Goff had a terrible performance in the big game. There’s been a lot of debate the past couple of years about how much of Goff’s improvement was due to his own natural development versus how much of it was due to McVay’s coaching.

As such, there have been some rumors that the Rams aren’t completely sold on Goff as the longterm answer. McVay openly stating last month that the team wasn’t in any rush to extend Goff did nothing to quiet those rumors. But during a recent appearance on The Rich Eisen show, McVay pushed back on that perception, saying Goff doesn’t have to prove he’s “the man.” “I think he’s already the man. I think he’s had a lot of moments,” McVay said. “His teammates believe in him, his coaches believe in him. I think it’s just continuing to do what you do at a higher level. It’s ‘can I continue to make great decisions? Can I continue to make throws with accuracy and anticipation?’ I think the thing that was great about him really from the first year we were together to last year is the ownership. We talk about the quarterback being an extension of the coaching staff and I think he did that.”

McVay made it clear he’s happy with Goff’s progression, and tried to extinguish any talk about the team potentially moving on down the line. It would be a major surprise if anything other than Goff getting a huge extension happens.

Here’s more from around the football universe:

  • We have some more fallout from the demise of the AAF. Daryl Johnston, the former Cowboys fullback and commentator, was the general manage of the San Antonio Commanders, and now he’s dishing on what went down. Johnston said during a recent appearance on ESPN Radio that he and others were “misled” by the league’s founders about the financial stability of the startup, per Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com. “There were several people who took jobs with the Alliance because they were told they had two years, and they’re in a very difficult spot now at this stage. This was something that caught me totally by surprise,” Johnston said. Johnston also said there are multiple San Antonio businesses who have so far been stiffed on payments they’re owed, and that Bill Polian called him out of the blue on the day the league ceased operations and told him to immediately shutdown practice.
  • As much as Johnston might want to put the chapter behind him, it might not be that simple for him. In a follow-up to that piece, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com writes that Johnston could now become a “key witness” in the multiple lawsuits that have been filed against the league. Florio writes that Johnston’s comments seemed to confirm the crux of the lawsuits, that the league’s founders lied about their financial standing. This surely isn’t the last we’ve heard of this process.
  • Free agent punter Jon Ryan might be getting back into professional football, but not in the NFL. The Seahawks’ punter for ten years from 2008-2017, Ryan had a workout with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL this past week, according to Rod Pedersen, the team’s announcer (Twitter link). Ryan was released by Seattle last August and signed with the Bills, but couldn’t crack Buffalo’s roster.

Bears Sign AAF Kicker Elliott Fry

On Friday, the Bears signed kicker Elliott Fry to a three-year contract, Larry Mayer of the ChicagoBears.com writes.

A former walk-on at the University of South Carolina, Fry recently played with the Orlando Apollos of the Alliance of American Football league, which recently suspended operations. He was a steady leg with the Apollos, converting all 14 of his attempts, with a long of 44 yards.

The Bears notably had issues with their kicking game in 2018. Those issues all culminated in the NFC Wild Card round, when Cody Parkey missed a 43-yard field goal with 10 seconds remaining that would have given the Bears the lead on the Eagles.

Fry becomes the third kicker the team has signed this offseason, joining Redford Jones (reserve/future contract) and Chris Blewitt.

AAF Won’t Allow Players To Sign With CFL

The CFL league office notified all of its teams that the AAF will not allow its players to sign CFL deals, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). This is undoubtedly frustrating news for AAF refugees, many of whom are still without work. 

[RELATED: More AAF Players Land NFL Deals]

Over the last week, many players from the defunct AAF found deals with NFL teams. However, there are still many who are looking to stay on the NFL’s radar. For players on the fringe, the CFL is one of the best places to showcase skills, even though the north-of-the-border league mandates that players sign for at least two seasons.

The AAF, of course, is in breach of the playing contracts, so it’s surprising to hear that they still have the ability to stop players from pursuing contracts elsewhere. AAF players have not received a dime since the league halted operations earlier this month and some are said to be gearing up for a class action lawsuit against the short-lived developmental league.

Tom Dundon, the owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes and the lead investor in the AAF, made the call to shutdown the upstart league largely because they were unable to negotiate an agreement with the NFLPA. Dundon wanted practice squad and other bottom of the roster players to be allowed to play in the AAF, but a deal couldn’t be struck in time. Many have speculated that Dundon bought into the league strictly for its gambling app technology.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Minor NFL Transactions: 4/8/19

Here are Monday’s minor moves, with more Alliance of American Football players finding NFL homes:

Carolina Panthers

Dallas Cowboys

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

  • Signed: DE Karter Schult (AAF)

New York Jets

  • Signed: WR/KR Valentine Holmes (International Player Pathway Program signee)

Oakland Raiders

Philadelphia Eagles

  • Signed: QB Luis Perez (AAF)

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Signed: DT Winston Craig (AAF), LB J.T. Jones (AAF), CB Kameron Kelly (AAF)

Tennessee Titans

Washington Redskins

  • Signed: G Salesi Uhatafe (AAF)

Extra Points: Grant, Ravens, 49ers, AAF

Receiver Ryan Grant was involved in one of the more bizarre situations of last offseason. The former Redskins receiver looked like he was about to cash in big time, and signed a four-year, $29MM contract with $14.5MM guaranteed with the Ravens. But soon after, the Ravens slapped him with a failed physical designation and voided the contract, making him a free agent again. He ended up settling for a one-year, $5MM deal with the Colts. Now he’s on to a new team, signing a one-year, $2.5MM deal with the Raiders earlier this week. In a recent interview with Sirius XM, Grant dished on what happened with Baltimore and finally explained all the details.

Grant said the Ravens just got cold feet and that the injury that made him fail the physical wasn’t anything serious, just a “mild ankle sprain,” as he put it. Even though he lost out on a significant amount of money, Grant isn’t bitter about it and said he’s genuinely happy to be in Oakland. “I feel like, had I signed with the Ravens, they probably would have, you know, did some other shady stuff to get me traded or released or something like this. So I’m thankful that they did what they did,” Grant explained. “I’m happy where I am now. Super excited to be a part of the Raiders organization. It’s the spirit and the culture of the team. And it just feels like I’ve been drafted all over again. I’m just so ecstatic,” he continued.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • With Jimmy Garoppolo set to return from his ACL tear next season, the 49ers suddenly have a surplus at quarterback. Both C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens are on the roster, and both have at the very least looked like above average backups during their time on the field. Beathard is a 2017 third round pick from Iowa who has started games in both of his first two seasons, and Mullens is a 2017 UDFA from Southern Miss who impressed when he was suddenly thrust into the starting role last season. Both are on cheap rookie deals, and there’s been a lot of speculation San Francisco could look to trade one of them. However, Matt Maioccio of NBC Sports thinks the 49ers will end up keeping all three signal-callers next season. Maioccio also writes it’s “difficult to believe that either has significant trade value around the NFL,” which is a fair point. Both Beathard and Garoppolo have suffered numerous injuries during their brief careers, so it makes sense why they’d want the depth.
  • Tom Dundon, the owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes and the lead investor in the AAF, made the call to shutdown the upstart league largely because they were unable to negotiate an agreement with the NFLPA. Dundon wanted practice squad and other bottom of the roster players to be allowed to play in the AAF, but a deal couldn’t be struck in time. Dundon has sought to cast blame for the league’s demise on the NFLPA, but Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com argues the union doesn’t deserve any of the blame. Florio casts Dundon’s case as a “flawed argument,” and breaks down why practice squad players wouldn’t have suddenly saved the league. Dundon essentially came in out of nowhere and tried to strong-arm the union, so it’s hard to disagree with Florio here.