United Football League To Feature Eight Teams, 10-Game Season

More details have surfaced regarding the XFL and USFL’s merger, which will produce a second operation called the United Football League. The long-rumored merger will produce a league that launches March 30, 2024, with the rebranded league housing eight teams and preparing to play a 10-game season.

Eight teams comprised each of the two winter-spring leagues in 2023, but the new UFL will see half the overall franchises cease operations. Spring leagues in the United States have waged uphill battles for generations, with financial issues taking down two XFL incarnations, 2019’s Alliance of American Football and the original United Football League (2009-12) this century. Thus, it is unsurprising to see the new league refuse to expand in terms of total teams.

The March 30 date falls in between the XFL and USFL’s 2023 starting points; the XFL officially returned in February, while the rebooted USFL’s second season began in April of last year. The XFL’s third try lost money, and the USFL showed interest in a merger shortly after its latest season. Five XFL teams and three USFL clubs will transfer over. Here are those teams:

  • Arlington Renegades
  • Birmingham Stallions
  • D.C. Defenders
  • Houston Roughnecks
  • Memphis Showboats
  • Michigan Panthers
  • San Antonio Brahmas
  • St. Louis Battlehawks

Houston previously housed XFL and USFL teams; the new one will keep its XFL moniker but use the USFL’s head coach (Curtis Johnson), ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert notes. Four XFL head coaches and four USFL HCs will stay on. Former 49ers HC Mike Nolan (Panthers), ex-NFL OC John DeFilippo (Showboats), longtime Oklahoma HC Bob Stoops (Renegades), Super Bowl-winning DC Wade Phillips (Brahmas), former Jets tight end Anthony Becht (Battlehawks), former NFL wideout Reggie Barlow (Defenders) and longtime college HC Skip Holtz (Stallions) will begin the season as the UFL’s head coaches.

Phillips coached the XFL’s Houston team last season but will shift to San Antonio for this latest reboot. The Giants lost their assistant special teams coach, Anthony Blevins, in July for an opportunity with the XFL’s Vegas Vipers; they were one of the three XFL franchises that will not continue play in the UFL. Former Bills president Russ Brandon, who served as XFL 3.0’s commissioner, will work as the UFL’s president and CEO. Longtime NFL fullback-turned-FOX analyst Daryl Johnston, the USFL’s president, will lead football operations for the new league.

While the new UFL will keep spring football afloat in the U.S., moving down from 16 total teams to eight will decrease opportunities for players. Several XFL 3.0 and USFL 2.0 alums wound up in NFL training camps. The USFL produced two impact Cowboys special-teamers, with KaVontae Turpin earning All-Pro honors for his return work in 2022 and Brandon Aubrey (zero missed 2023 field goals in Dallas) on the cusp of matching that as a kicker.

Following the September merger report, Seifert adds federal regulators approved the merger Nov. 30. Training camp will begin Feb. 24 in Arlington, the site of last year’s XFL camp. The UFL will have each team practice in Arlington, per The Athletic’s Chris Vannini, before flying out to game sites each week (subscription required). Games will be televised on ABC, FOX, ESPN and FS1.

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.

Bengals To Sign Former XFL QB Reid Sinnett

Following the calf injury that will keep star quarterback Joe Burrow out for most, if not all, of the preseason, the Bengals have decided to add another camp body to their quarterbacks room. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Cincinnati plans to sign former XFL quarterback Reid Sinnett in order to help manage through the preseason.

This is not Sinnett’s first stint on an NFL squad. He originally signed as an undrafted free agent with the Buccaneers in 2020 out of San Diego. He also previously spent time with the Dolphins (twice) and Eagles before finding his way to the XFL. He never made any NFL appearances, but he did spend time on the active rosters in both Miami and Philadelphia.

In the XFL, Sinnett got his first professional playing time with the San Antonio Brahmas. Unfortunately, his time on the field was cut short. After only starting one game as a pro, Sinnett was placed on injured reserve after suffering a broken foot.

Sinnett is likely not a threat to push Bengals backup quarterbacks Trevor Siemian or Jake Browning for playing time, and he’s obviously not going to challenge Burrow upon his return, but Burrow went down early into training camp, and the Bengals have a long way to go before they start playing football that matters. Going through the preseason with only two active quarterbacks is just not a viable option, so Sinnett gets more NFL experience under his belt to help Cincinnati get through camp without putting too much on Siemian and Browning.

WRs Malachi Wideman, Milton Wright To Work Out For NFL Teams

The NFL’s first supplemental draft since 2019 ended without a team using a selection. As a result, the two wide receivers in the draft — Malachi Wideman (Jackson State) and Milton Wright (Purdue) — are unrestricted free agents.

Both players intend to work out for teams soon. Wright has already secured workout opportunities with teams, per ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter, who notes these auditions will take place when teams report to training camp later this month (Twitter link). Wideman is also in the process of scheduling workouts with teams, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets, with KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson adding auditions will be on tap for the former Division I-FCS wide receiver (Twitter link).

Purdue rostered Rondale Moore and David Bell during Wright’s career. With Moore on the Cardinals by 2021, Wright established new career-high marks in receptions (57), receiving yards (732) and touchdowns (seven) during his junior season alongside Bell. A former four-star Tennessee recruit who later transferred to the then-Deion Sanders-led program, Wideman totaled 34 receptions for 540 yards during his lone season in uniform for Jackson State. Wideman caught 12 touchdown passes that year. Both Wright and Wideman were declared academically ineligible for the 2022 season, leading to their supplemental draft avenues.

Wideman, who already held a pro day earlier this summer, is on tap to continue his career soon. The CFL and XFL have offered safety nets for the 6-foot-5 wideout. The San Antonio Brahmas obtained Wideman’s rights and offered him a contract, per Wilson, who adds the free agent pass catcher also has a CFL offer in hand (Twitter link). That offer looks to have come from the Calgary Stampeders, whom Wilson notes have acquired Wideman’s rights.

Prior to this week, the supplemental draft had not been held since 2019. The event’s star power of the 1980s and ’90s, when the likes of Bernie Kosar, Cris Carter and Rob Moore were selected in the summer draft, has long faded. But the Cardinals did land eventual safety starter Jalen Thompson in July 2019. After not being chosen, Wideman and Wright will attempt to catch on with teams soon.

Anthony Blevins Leaves Giants For XFL Job

The Giants will need to make a late-offseason replacement on their coaching staff. One of their longest-tenured staffers is stepping away for an opportunity in the XFL.

Assistant special teams coach Anthony Blevins is leaving Brian Daboll‘s staff, per the New York Daily News’ Pat Leonard (on Twitter). Although the Giants have changed head coaches twice in the past four years, Blevins has been part of the team’s past six staffs. It is not especially common to see July coaching staff departures, but the XFL will provide a promotion of sorts. The Vegas Vipers named Blevins as their head coach, per a team announcement.

I’m honored to be named head coach of the Vipers. I watched the XFL last season, and I was incredibly impressed by the action on the field and the coaching on the sidelines,” Blevins said. “I’m looking forward to taking the next step in my career, and this a great opportunity to share my knowledge and experience while getting the most out of players on the field for the fans in the stands and watching at home.”

Blevins will replace Hall of Famer Rod Woodson as the Vipers’ leader. Woodson agreed to join the twice-rebooted league as the Vegas franchise’s head coach, but the sides mutually parted ways last month. The Vipers went 2-8 last season.

In place as the Giants’ assistant ST coach since 2021, Blevins also held roles on defense during his time in New York. The 46-year-old assistant joined Pat Shurmur‘s staff in 2018, leaving a five-year post as Bruce Arians‘ assistant ST coach in Arizona for the same role in New York. The Giants moved Blevins to assistant defensive backs coach upon hiring Joe Judge — who came to the Big Apple with a special teams background — in 2020 and then to assistant linebackers coach in 2021. Daboll returned Blevins to the assistant ST role last year.

The Browns interviewed Blevins for their special teams coordinator role earlier this year, but the gig went to former Colts ST boss Bubba Ventrone. Blevins has been in the NFL for the past 10 seasons, spending most of the previous decade as a college assistant.

The Giants still have ST coordinator Thomas McGaughey, who joined the team during the same offseason in which Blevins arrived, in place. McGaughey is the last staff link to the Shurmur years now. Defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson and assistant DBs coach Mike Treier are holdovers from Judge’s staff, however.

XFL Confident In Long-Term Financial Future

The XFL has its immediate future in place with plans to hold a 2024 season. Beyond that, many questions remain regarding the viability of the spring league’s third iteration, though its ownership remains confident it will soon be on sold financial footing.

The 2023 campaign marked the first of the XFL’s latest format, one made possible by the ownership tandem of Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia. The pair purchased the league, one which had one-off seasons in 2001 and 2020, with the intent of establishing a long-term professional alternative to the NFL for players along with a partnership regarding rules testing. After the past season, more than two dozen XFL players have landed contracts in the NFL, illustrating the potential the former has as an effective pathway.

However, finances could represent an obstacle to long-term stability. Forbes’ Jabari Young reports that the XFL lost roughly $60MM in 2023, a figure which likely helps explains recent layoffs and cannot be repeated over consecutive years if the league aims to remain in place for the foreseeable future. However, its owners have struck an optimistic tone on that front and signs are pointing to a reversal of those losses.

The XFL is projecting $100MM in revenue for next season, Young notes. Part of the reason for that estimate is the continued partnership with ESPN as a broadcaster, along with other financial commitments made for the league’s first four years of operation. The addition of new corporate sponsors for next season should also help put the league in the black. Garcia said the XFL is “extremely well-capitalized for the long-term.”

Gerry Cardinale, owner of XFL co-owner RedBird Capital, has echoed Garcia’s confidence in the league’s ability to firmly establish itself as a permanent fixture on the spring football calendar. No American league has been able to do that over an extended period, but if Cardinale’s estimate of the XFL becoming cash-flow positive by 2027 holds true, it may indeed accomplish that goal. Much remains to be seen regarding the league’s short- and long-term future, but a path to financial stability appears to be in place.

Minor NFL Transactions: 6/19/23

Here are Monday’s minor moves:

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Signed: LS Rex Sunahara

This marks a return to Pittsburgh for Sunahara, whose most recent playing experience came for the XFL’s San Antonio Brahmas this year. The Steelers brought in Sunahara late during the 2021 season, adding the specialist to their practice squad. Pittsburgh gave the West Virginia alum a reserve/futures contract in January 2022 but waived him the following May. Despite working out ex-Ravens tight end/long snapper hopeful Nick Boyle this offseason, the Steelers look like they will hold a Sunahara-Christian Kuntz snapper competition.

Cowboys Likely To Add Kicker Before Training Camp

The Cowboys will have a new kicker this season, but that player might not yet be on the roster. Speaking to reporters earlier this week, owner Jerry Jones acknowledged while “nothing is imminent,” the Cowboys will “likely” add a kicker before training camp (per the team’s website).

Jones added that the front office has “a lot of options and are looking for more” as they navigate the position going forward. The team turned back to Brett Maher in 2022 following two years with Greg Zuerlein at the position. Maher was more than serviceable during the regular season, connecting on 90.6 percent of his field goal attempts (29 of 32) and 94.3 percent of his extra point tries (50 of 53).

However, the wheels fell off during the postseason. Maher missed four XP tries during the Cowboys’ win over the Buccaneers, and he missed another during the team’s loss to Tampa Bay. The Cowboys didn’t re-sign Maher, who remains a free agent.

At the moment, the team’s only kicker is Tristan Vizcaino. The journeyman has reportedly looked good during OTAs but has a limited track record. Vizcaino has appeared in 10 games in stints with the 49ers, Chargers, Cardinals, and Patriots, connecting on 11 of his 12 FG attempts and 15 of his 20 XP attempts.

While the free agent options at kicker are limited, Stephen Jones noted that the Cowboys could look to alternative sources to fill the hole on the depth chart.

“That’s one of the great things about these leagues (XFL, USFL),” Jones said (via Jon Machota of The Athletic), “it gives you an opportunity to watch these kickers, just like we found (KaVontae) Turpin last year. Certainly (vice president of player personnel) Will (McClay) and his staff are doing a great job of evaluating the guys. Got a couple guys that we think are of interest, and see where we end up. … Whoever is not on a team that we can look at, we’re looking at to improve.”

49ers Likely To Carry Three QBs; Brock Purdy Ramps Up Throwing Program

The 49ers closed last season with only Josh Johnson backing up Brock Purdy, moving to that two-quarterback setup after Jimmy Garoppolo‘s foot injury. That approach’s conclusion ended up leading to the NFL changing the rules regarding QB availability.

Going into this year, the 49ers will likely take a more conventional approach. They are prepared to carry three quarterbacks on their active roster, Matt Barrows of The Athletic notes (subscription required).

San Francisco’s offseason roster houses four quarterbacks — Purdy, Trey Lance, Sam Darnold, Brandon Allen — and the team just worked out recent XFL arm Jack Coan (along with four-year veteran wide receiver Jason Moore), KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson tweets. With a four-QB arrangement rarely used during the regular season, one of the team’s current four passers will not be on the active roster once the team sets it August 29. This does invite questions regarding Lance and Darnold coexisting, but Allen could make sense as a practice squad option.

Despite Allen spending the past three years as Joe Burrow‘s Bengals backup, he landed with the 49ers midway through the offseason. Allen would pass straight to free agency if cut in late August, opening the door for a spot on San Francisco’s 16-man P-squad. It is possible another team would view the veteran backup as a second- or third-string candidate, however. In the event the 49ers do pull the trigger on a Lance trade — a rumored scenario earlier this offseason, though John Lynch has veered in the other direction as of late — Allen makes sense as their third-stringer.

He’s obviously not just a camp arm around this league,” Shanahan said of Allen. “He’s been a backup for a while.”

Allen, 30, is going into his eighth NFL season. For now, Lance and Darnold are splitting first-team reps while Purdy recovers. But after the events of last season, the 49ers could carry three QBs on their active roster and have an insurance option on the P-squad.

Lance went down in Week 2 of last season and underwent two ankle surgeries, while Garoppolo’s Bay Area run coming to an end in early December. The latter issue led to a March surgery, which has affected the Raiders’ 2023 plans. Purdy’s UCL tear did not lead to Tommy John surgery, but it has still thrust the 49ers into another offseason headlined by post-surgery rehab. Garoppolo came back from shoulder surgery last year, moving off the trade block and into the role of Lance’s backup. Johnson, signed off the Broncos’ practice squad after Garoppolo’s injury, suffered a concussion that brought a severely compromised Purdy back into the NFC championship game. Last month, the NFL approved the return of the emergency QB rule, which allows for teams to designate a non-active-roster passer as its game-day emergency option — only in the event its top two QBs go down.

This scenario opens the door to the strange proposition of Lance or Darnold not dressing but being an emergency option. Purdy continues to look like he will not need a stay on the reserve/PUP list to start the season. Although the second-year passer’s rehab timetable may still threaten his regular-season availability, the 49ers will likely play it week to week and keep Purdy on their 53-man roster in that case. Not long after beginning to throw post-surgery, Purdy has ramped up his throwing program to three times per week, Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News notes.

Considered ahead of schedule in his recovery from an internal brace procedure, Purdy remains in the driver’s seat to start for the 49ers. Training camp will provide a better indication of Darnold or Lance’s capabilities at unseating last year’s Mr. Irrelevant, but for the time being, Purdy’s grip on the job remains firm.