USFL

USFL, XFL Reach Merger Agreement

2:07pm: The new league (name TBD) may be settling on a 12-team setup, GOPHNX.com’s Howard Balzer tweets, adding that this merger will be aimed at taking effect for the 2024 season. Should this rumored plan come to fruition, f our franchises would need to be eliminated. This would mean a third straight year of offseason football in America and a spring league setting up shop in five of the past six years.

10:30am: The two spring football leagues will follow through on their rumored merger. The USFL announced Thursday an agreement to merge with the XFL is in place.

This will open the door to questions regarding league schedules, rules and the number of teams that will be part of this revamped operation. But after early shutdowns marred multiple offseason leagues in the recent past, it is interesting the most recent two will stick around as a joint entity.

Talks between the two leagues began in July, following USFL 2.0’s second completed season. While the XFL folded twice and the Alliance of American Football joined the once-Vince McMahon-helmed league in failing to complete a season, the USFL has quietly played out two full campaigns. While not offering talent on the level of the original USFL, this rebooted outfit will make an interesting imprint on the football world by merging with the twice-relaunched XFL.

Dwayne Johnson led the effort for the XFL to return, with he and ex-wife/business partner Dany Garcia reviving the league. The XFL, however, lost roughly $60MM this year. The XFL’s championship game still outdrew the USFL’s, earning a 1.4 rating as the USFL commanded a 1.2 number. Despite the losses, the XFL had planned to come back for another season.

The NFL and AFL officially merged in 1970, but the sides reached an agreement years before. The leagues held their first common draft in 1967 but remained separate in terms of competition from 1967-69. Super Bowls II-IV represented the only on-field AFL-NFL competition from 1967-69. The 1970 season brought reconfigured divisions, with both the Browns and Colts shifting to the newly formed AFC, and schedules that featured regular-season games between the conferences. The USFL-XFL alliance reaching multiple seasons would be a win, given the developments in spring leagues since the original USFL folded after its 1985 season. But a number of questions remain.

XFL 3.0 ran from February to April; the new-look USFL’s season spanned from April to June. Each league featured eight teams. A Houston franchise — the XFL’s Roughnecks and USFL’s Gamblers, respectively — was present in both leagues.Relocations took place frequently in the original USFL, and it is still unknown if this presently unnamed coalition will feature all of its games in home markets. To save on travel costs, both the USFL and XFL used hubs rather than having its teams trek across the country.

Both leagues gave numerous former NFL players additional audition opportunities, with younger talent also using the new platforms as a springboard into chances with the country’s top sports league. Most notably, KaVontae Turpin played in both the USFL and NFL last season, earning All-Pro honors as a return man with the Cowboys. Dallas’ kicker this year, Brandon Aubrey, played in both USFL seasons over the past two years. XFL QBs Ben DiNucci and Reid Sinnett respectively reside on the Broncos and Bengals’ practice squads, and its yards-per-punt leader — Brad Wing — landed a P-squad gig (with the Steelers) six years after he last punted in an NFL game.

USFL, XFL Aiming To Complete Merger

The XFL’s third try offered an interesting backdrop earlier this year, as the rebooted USFL managed to follow through on plans to play a second season. While spring-summer leagues perpetually navigate uphill battles, both finished their respective seasons. But the leagues did not fare especially well financially.

As a result, the two minor leagues of sorts are planning to merge, according to Tim Baysinger, Dan Primack and Sara Fischer of Axios.com. Details are somewhat elusive here, but InsidetheLeague.com’s Neil Stratton indicates talks have been ongoing since July. The leagues have not completed a merger yet but hope to finalize this process before the 2024 season, per Axios, and an official announcement could come this week.

Offseason football or even an in-season effort, which the United Football League tried nearly 15 years ago, has produced quick shutdowns. Although the UFL lasted multiple seasons, XFL 1.0 folded after a memorable 2001 faceplant. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted the second XFL iteration to cancel its season midway through, and a messy legal battle ensued. With that coming a year after the Alliance of American Football folded before its inaugural campaign wrapped, prospects of a major spring football league in America appeared grim. But the USFL has quietly kept going. The league completed its second season this year.

Dwayne Johnson led the effort for the XFL to return, with he and ex-wife/business partner Dany Garcia reviving the once-Vince McMahon-helmed operation. The XFL, however, lost roughly $60MM this year. The XFL’s championship game still outdrew the USFL’s, earning a 1.4 rating as the USFL commanded a 1.2 number. The XFL had been expected to remain in operation, with the Giants’ assistant special teams coach — Anthony Blevins — leaving the NFC East team for an XFL HC opportunity this summer. That opportunity may now come for a renamed and expanded league.

It is unknown if both eight-team leagues will see all its franchises become part of an expanded operation or how many games would be played in home markets. Neither league went through with the latter aspect fully this season, attempting to save on travel costs. Both XFL and USFL teams featured a Houston franchise — the Roughnecks and Gamblers, respectively — so that would seemingly need to be ironed out. Should a 16-team league form, it would remind — in size only — of the original USFL, which at one point ballooned to 18 teams. That league, of course, famously combusted in the mid-1980s.

XFL 3.0 and USFL 2.0 have sent players to the NFL — most notably Cowboys All-Pro return man KaVontae Turpin, a USFLer in 2022 — and the NFL had worked out a developmental-based partnership with the XFL. It will be interesting to see how that arrangement will look should the two spring leagues complete this merger.

Should the leagues merge, one of them would also need to change its schedule. The XFL began in February last year, while the USFL kicked off in April. While this coming to fruition certainly could increase interest in spring football, the details of this merger will be critical.

Patriots Sign RB C.J. Marable

The Patriots are adding a running back, but probably not the one you’re thinking of. New England has signed running back C.J. Marable, according to Aaron Wilson of KPRC 2 in Houston (via Twitter). Marable worked out for the team yesterday.

[Latest On Patriots’ Interest In RBs Ezekiel Elliott]

Marable is a success story out of the USFL, where the running back won a pair of championships with the Birmingham Stallions. In his two seasons with the team, the running back rushed for 925 yards and eight touchdowns, and he added another 396 yards and two touchdowns on 48 receptions.

The running back was previously a standout at Coastal Carolina, where he collecting 3,394 yards from scrimmage across three seasons at the school. Following a 2019 campaign where he compiled 1,380 yards and 14 touchdowns, Marable earned first-team All-Sun Belt honors in 2020 after finishing with 1,115 yards and 19 touchdowns. He went undrafted during the 2021 draft and had a brief training camp stint with the Bears.

Rhamondre Stevenson is prime for a big season atop the Patriots RB depth chart, but with Damien Harris now out of the picture, the team lacks experienced depth. A pair of former draft picks, 2022 fourth-round pick Pierre Strong and 2022 sixth-round pick Kevin Harris, are the main candidates to serve as the RB2 along with former UDFA J.J. Taylor.

Due to that lack of depth, the Patriots have been connected to a number of free agent running backs. Most recently, the organization had Ezekiel Elliott in for a visit, and it sounds like the front office is still interested in adding the former Cowboys star. Considering Marable’s lack of NFL track record, today’s signing probably doesn’t impact the chances of an Elliott signing in New England.

49ers To Sign DE Breeland Speaks

10:42am: To make room on their 90-man roster, the 49ers placed Anthony Averett on IR, per the San Jose Mercury News’ Cam Inman (on Twitter). A former Ravens and Raiders starter, Averett made two trips to IR during his season with Las Vegas. The 49ers have now placed two veteran cornerbacks — Averett and Terrance Mitchellon IR over the past several days.

9:51am: The 49ers have taken a few fliers on ex-high draft choices at defensive end in recent years. Their latest such effort will involve a former second-round pick who generated interest as a USFL standout.

Breeland Speaks is signing with the team, according to KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson (on Twitter). The former Chiefs draft choice worked out for the Broncos and Texans as well, but after a 49ers audition, he will attempt to become a depth piece in San Francisco.

While Speaks’ initial NFL run did not go as the Chiefs envisioned, he re-emerged on the radar with the Michigan Panthers. Speaks led the second-year league with nine sacks this year. He will join a 49ers roster that has seen more turnover among Nick Bosa‘s batch of D-end sidekicks. The 49ers lost Charles Omenihu and Samson Ebukam this offseason — to the Chiefs and Colts, respectively — and are currently without Bosa due to a holdout. Bosa is expected to land a monster extension soon, and the 49ers will have some new pieces in place alongside him.

The team added former No. 4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell and ex-Cowboys first-rounder Taco Charlton this offseason. This comes after well-regarded D-line coach Kris Kocurek helped the likes of Omenihu, Ebukam, Kerry Hyder and ex-Ferrell Raiders teammate Arden Key raise their values after recent free agency accords (Hyder remains with the 49ers). A Speaks reclamation project will seemingly be a longer-odds proposition, but the 49ers will kick the tires on the recent USFL success story.

Brett Veach‘s first draft choice as Chiefs GM, Speaks has not played in an NFL game since 2018. Speaks, 27, missed all of 2019 due to injury and could not make the Chiefs’ 53-man roster in 2020. The former No. 46 overall pick ended up with the Raiders, Cowboys, Giants and Bills — on practice squad agreements — through the end of the 2021 season. Speaks finished his rookie year with 1.5 sacks, starting four Chiefs games.

Packers Sign QB Alex McGough

8:25pm: The Packers have officially signed the quarterback, according to Wilson (on Twitter).

12:30pm: Initially a 2018 Seahawks draftee, Alex McGough was unable to see any game action during his first NFL go-round. But after a successful run in the USFL, he will have another chance.

McGough worked out for the Packers on Tuesday, and Aaron Wilson of KPRC2 notes the NFC North team intends to add him to its 90-man roster (Twitter links). The 6-foot-3 quarterback had drawn interest from a number of teams, but the Packers will give him another NFL opportunity.

Spending two seasons in the rebooted USFL, McGough used Year 2 to assemble a decent launching pad back to the NFL. The Florida International product earned USFL MVP honors and led the Birmingham Stallions to the league championship. McGough finished the season with 20 touchdown passes and five interceptions to go with 2,105 passing yards and a 67.4% completion rate. Displaying some versatility, McGough added 403 rushing yards and five TDs.

McGough, 27, spent time with the Seahawks, Jaguars and Texans from 2018-21, enjoying multiple stints with Seattle. None of these opportunities led to game action, though the veteran arm has joined a Packers team that lost considerable experience at quarterback.

Following their Aaron Rodgers trade, the Packers did not add a veteran backup. Fifth-round rookie Sean Clifford (Penn State) resides as the top name on the Pack’s depth chart behind Jordan Love. Danny Etling, a UDFA who joined McGough in entering the NFL in 2018, is the third QB on Green Bay’s roster.

Giants Work Out Two Linebackers

While the Giants front office was busy negotiating an unsuccessful extension with running back Saquon Barkley today, the coaching staff was getting a look at some depth on both sides of the ball. According to Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com (on Twitter), the team auditioned linebackers Joe Giles-Harris and Kyahva Tezino. The Giants also worked out running back Mark Thompson.

[RELATED: Giants LB Jarrad Davis Undergoes Surgery]

Giles-Harris is the lone player on the list with any NFL experience, as the linebacker saw time in 17 games between 2019 and 2022. His best season came with the Jaguars in 2020 when he compiled 20 tackles, one sack, and five QB hits in nine games (three starts). Since then, he’s seen time in three regular season games across two seasons with the Bills.

Tezino was a former SDSU standout who later had brief stints with the Patriots and Panthers. He was most recently one of the best defenders in the USFL, finishing second in the league in tackles (94) and tackles for loss (nine) while also chipping in two interceptions and two forced fumbles.

The linebacker workouts follow news that projected starting middle linebacker Jarrad Davis is expected to miss a chunk of time after undergoing knee surgery. The veteran was only slated to start while second-year linebacker Darrian Beavers continues to recover from a torn ACL, and Davis’ absence will only force the team to dig deeper into their LB depth.

The Giants also gave a look at a USFL standout on the other side of the ball. Thompson earned the league’s Offensive Player of the Year award this past season after totaling 14 touchdowns on the ground. The running back was undrafted in 2018 and later had stints with the Ravens, Jets, Lions, and Raiders.

The Giants don’t have a whole lot of experienced RB depth behind Barkley, with Matt Breida representing the team’s only veteran backup at the position. Thompson could provide the coaching staff with another look outside of rookie fifth-round pick Eric Gray, former sixth rounder Gary Brightwell, and 2022 UDFA Jashaun Corbin.

USFL QBs Alex McGough, De’Andre Johnson Drawing NFL Interest

A pair of USFL quarterbacks are drawing significant interest around the NFL. According to Aaron Wilson of KPRC2 (via Twitter), Alex McGough has “multiple upcoming NFL workouts” and has “drawn interest from roughly a third of the league.” Meanwhile, De’Andre Johnson is also drawing interest from teams, including the Browns and Texans, per Wilson (on Twitter).

McGough was a 2018 seventh-round pick by the Seahawks, but he spent the majority of his rookie campaign on the practice squad. The FIU product later had stints with the Jaguars and Texans before returning to Seattle in late 2020.

The quarterback was later the sixth-overall pick in the 2022 USFL Draft. He didn’t play a whole lot during his first season in the league, but his 2023 campaign clearly helped put him back on the NFL radar. McGough won the league’s MVP and guided his Birmingham Stallions to the league championship, completing 67.4 percent of his passes for 2,105 yards, 20 touchdowns, and five interceptions. He added another 403 yards and five scores on the ground.

Johnson’s collegiate career saw him join East Mississippi’s “Last Chance U” after getting dismissed from Florida State. He later moved on to Texas Southern before going undrafted in 2020. Since then, he spent time in The Spring League before joining the USFL for the 2022 campaign. Through two season in the league, the quarterback has thrown for only 1,712 yards, but he’s added 671 rushing yards (to go along with six rushing touchdowns).

Considering the dual-threat nature of these two players, there’s a chance they’re drawing NFL interest for positions other than quarterback. The Browns don’t seem to have a major need for a quarterback; behind Deshaun Watson, they have a grouping that includes veteran Joshua Dobbs, rookie fifth-round pick Dorian Thompson-Robinson, and former third-round pick Kellen Mond. The same goes for the Falcons, who seem to have a set depth chart in Desmond Ridder, Taylor Heinicke, and Logan Woodside.

Cowboys To Sign K Brandon Aubrey

The Cowboys enjoyed a nice return from a summer flier on a USFL player, seeing return man KaVontae Turpin earn All-Pro acclaim. The team will turn to the spring-summer league once again for specialty help.

Two-year USFL kicker Brandon Aubrey is signing with the Cowboys, Todd Archer of ESPN.com tweets. Aubrey played for the USFL’s Birmingham Stallions over the past two years but has a soccer background. Prior to his kicker summers in Alabama, Aubrey was selected in the 2017 Major League Soccer draft. Aubrey is a Plano, Texas, native.

Aubrey, 28, joins Tristan Vizcaino as kickers on the Cowboys’ 90-man roster. While the likes of Robbie Gould, Mason Crosby and Ryan Succop are free agent options, Cowboys brass had previously indicated an XFL or USFL kicker would be considered. As training camp nears, a Vizcaino-Aubrey competition appears on tap.

Aubrey made 14 of 15 field goals for the Stallions this season and did not miss an extra point. The former Notre Dame soccer player helped Birmingham to its second straight title in the rebooted USFL. Aubrey also led this year’s USFL in touchbacks, with six. He auditioned for the Jaguars and Seahawks last summer but did not land with either team.

During his senior season at Notre Dame (2016), Aubrey earned first-team All-ACC accolades and third-team All-American honors as a defender. He then went to Toronto FC in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft. Toronto, which had assigned Aubrey to its United Soccer League affiliate, released the ex-Fighting Irish contributor after the 2017 season.

This qualifies as an unorthodox addition for a Cowboys team that saw glaring kicker concerns crop up during the playoffs. Brett Maher missed four extra points in the Cowboys’ wild-card win over the Buccaneers, and the veteran specialist’s struggles continued against the 49ers. Maher remains a free agent. The Cowboys did not rule out bringing back Maher, who has enjoyed two stints with the team, but the Aubrey addition points to the team looking at younger options to start camp.

Maher only wound up back in Dallas after its initial 2022 kicker plan bombed. A training camp competition between rookie UDFA Jonathan Garibay and young veteran Lirim Hajrullahu led to both players being waived and Maher, a mid-camp addition, winning the job. Maher spent last season as Dallas’ kicker, succeeding Greg Zuerlein in that role.

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/7/22

We will keep track of today’s minor moves right here:

Atlanta Falcons

Buffalo Bills

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Green Bay Packers

Jacksonville Jaguars

New York Giants

Philadelphia Eagles

Washington Commanders

Saffold landed on the NFI list after injuring his ribs in a car accident. Getting their starting left guard back sooner rather than later is an important development for the Bills.

Colburn will take the place of Cottrell in the Jags’ RB room. The Wake Forest product played in four games for the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars this year, garnering 102 rushes for 457 yards (just under 4.5 YPC) and eight scores.

Cottrell has seen action in each of the past two years for Jacksonville, returning seven kicks in 2020 and handling one carry in 2021.

Wolf and Parker get preseason roster positions after successful workouts yesterday. The Commanders are looking for depth at both positions as they work towards a 53-man roster.

USFL WR Devin Gray Signs With Chiefs

Wide receiver Devin Gray will dip his toes into the NFL waters for the third time after signing a one-year deal with Kansas City, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. The former Cincinnati Bearcat most recently played in the United States Football League and is the latest player from that league to sign an NFL contract.

Gray signed with the Falcons as an undrafted free agent in 2018. He spent three years on the team’s practice squad before finally being elevated to the active roster in the last regular season game of the 2020 season, still failing to find his way onto the field in that game. After participating in the short-lived The Spring League, Gray joined the Ravens for the summer of 2021, getting released from the practice squad early into the regular season. After failing to find another NFL job, Gray got selected in the USFL Draft and played eight games for the Philadelphia Stars, catching 25 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns.

Gray has some work ahead of him to make the Chiefs’ final 53-man roster. While Kansas City’s receiving corps isn’t exactly top-heavy, it has a decent amount of potential depth. The starting three are expected to be free agent addition JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mecole Hardman, and another free agent signing in Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Behind them veteran Josh Gordon provides his skill set as long as he can stay on the field, second-round pick Skyy Moore will make the jump from Western Michigan to the NFL, and Justin Watson comes over after four unproductive years in Tampa Bay. Still behind them is former first-round pick Corey Coleman and a few other receivers who stood out in college like Daurice Fountain, Cornell Powell, and Gary Jennings.

That’s a lot of traffic for Gray to maneuver, and it will certainly be an uphill battle for the 27-year-old as he attempts to make an active NFL roster for only the second time in his career.