XFL

2022 NFL General Manager Search Tracker

Along with the head coaches being fired, a few NFL teams are looking for new general managers. Listed below are the GM candidates that have been linked to each of the teams with vacancies, along with their current status.

If and when other teams decide to make GM changes, they’ll be added to this list. Here is the current breakdown:

Updated 5-18-22 (5:03pm CT)

Chicago Bears

Las Vegas Raiders

Minnesota Vikings

New York Giants

Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers To Conduct Second GM Interview With Doug Whaley

Another candidate for the Steelers’ general manager position has emerged. The team will be conducting a second interview with Doug Whaley, reports Tom Pelissero of NFL Network (Twitter link). 

[RELATED: Steelers To Hold Second Interviews With Cowden, Spytek]

Whaley began his tenure in NFL front offices with the Steelers. He was hired by Pittsburgh in 2000 as a pro personnel coordinator, beginning years of tutelage under outgoing general manager Kevin Colbert. One decade later, he joined the Bills under the titles of assistant general manager and director of pro personnel, which he held for three seasons before becoming general manager.

Whaley’s tenure at the helm in Buffalo saw plenty of roster and coaching staff turnover. In 2015, he was part of the group that hired Rex Ryan as head coach – a stint which lasted less than two full seasons. More encouragingly, he was also involved in the hiring process for Ryan’s replacement, current HC Sean McDermott. It was during the latter’s first season that the team matched its best record under Whaley at 9-7.

Despite the lack of team success on the field – a result, in part, of decisions like trading up to draft Sammy Watkins fourth overall and signing Marcell Dareus to a lucrative contract – Whaley received an extension after the 2016 season. That came amidst speculation regarding his job security, ultimately becoming a moot point one year later. He was fired immediately after the 2017 draft.

That was the last time Whaley worked in an NFL front office. After a brief stint as a recruiter for the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, he was hired as a part of the re-started XFL. After the announcement of another re-booting of the league, it was announced in November he would regain his role working alongside the likes of Russ Brandon and Marc Ross.

With the news of a third second-interview candidate in Pittsburgh, here is an updated look at their search:

XFL Partners With NFL Alumni Academy

The development of the XFL continues as it strives to return in 2023. Earlier this week, the league announced a partnership with the NFL Alumni Academy, according to Josh Alper of NBC Sports.

The NFL Alumni Academy was established in 2020 to create a sort of pool of “NFL ready” free agents that teams can draw from in-season in case of injuries. They classify themselves as “an elite in-season training program” operating at the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame Village in Canton, Ohio.

The thought process is that, on average, NFL teams end up seeking to replace up to 500 active roster players each season. Many talented players are unable to make the 53-man rosters or 16-man practice squads to start the season. The Academy offers an environment for those players to be completely prepared to return to the NFL at a moment’s notice. In this environment free agents are taught, coached, and mentored by former NFL coaches and players.

Partnering with the Academy is an extremely advantageous deal for the fledgling league in establishing a solid foothold. Having a continuous source of players is an important step in making sure that the XFL is sustainable long-term.

XFL president Russ Brandon called the partnership “monumental…for the entire football ecosystem.” The terms of the partnership have not been specified, but it’s easy to see how the deal can benefit both organizations substantially.

Wade Phillips, Rod Woodson, Hines Ward Among XFL HCs

Out of the NFL since the 2019 season, Super Bowl-winning defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will resurface in the latest XFL iteration. The longtime NFL coach will be one of XFL 3.0’s eight HCs, the rebooting league announced Wednesday.

Hall of Famer Rod Woodson, former Pro Bowler Hines Ward, and ex-Oklahoma national championship HC Bob Stoops will join Phillips. Former Saints and Rams HC Jim Haslett will also lead an XFL team. The league’s third round of HCs also includes former NFLers Terrell Buckley, Anthony Becht and Reggie Barlow.

“Our head coaches are a diverse group of leaders, champions and hall of famers with experience competing and coaching at the highest level in football. Not only will they be mentors to our players, but they are also ambassadors of the XFL as we work together to build tomorrow’s league,” said Dany Garcia, Co-Owner and Chairwoman of the XFL. “What is most exciting about our talented coaches is that they all share our vision for the XFL and are committed to advancing the game of football for players and making it into a must-watch program for fans. The XFL is anchored in the belief of opportunity, and, just like our players, these football legends will drive the future of the game.”

Head coach or interim HC for four teams, Phillips was on the sideline for the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 win and coached in Super Bowls XXIV and LIII as Denver and Los Angeles DC. The veteran coach also had a long career as a defensive coordinator, with his most recent gig coming with the Rams between 2017 and 2019. The last we heard from Phillips, he was discussing a potential role on the Browns staff in 2020. Phillips will be 75 when he takes the field in February.

Haslett, the 2000 AP NFL Coach of the Year, served as the Titans inside linebackers coach over the past two seasons, but he wasn’t retained following the 2021 campaign. He last served as a HC in 2008, going 2-10 as the interim head coach with the Rams. In six seasons with the Saints, the team went 45-51 with only one playoff appearance.

Woodson has some experience coaching in the NFL. He had two stints as the Raiders cornerbacks coach, and he also had coaching jobs with the Bengals and Broncos. Similarly, Ward had a two-year coaching stint with the Jets before spending the 2021 campaign as Florida Atlantic’s wide receivers coach.

NFL, XFL Announce Formal Partnership

The NFL is entering into a partnership agreement with the XFL, with the latter league set to be a “petri dish” for the former. In an official statement, the XFL announced it would “collaborate with the NFL on select innovation programs”, with a particular focus on health and safety. 

The partnership is not one that will establish the XFL as a developmental league for NFL teams, but nevertheless a notable step in collaboration between the two entities. The news comes one year before the XFL is scheduled to begin play in its third iteration (and first since being purchased by Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia). It is the second time the league has attempted to partner with an established outfit, having unsuccessfully done so with the CFL in 2021.

We are bringing forward an XFL that is progressive and forward-thinking when it comes to innovation, leveraging the newest technology to enhance gameday experience”, Garcia said. “Sharing insights and practices between the XFL and NFL will do a tremendous amount of good for the game of football and support the player ecosystem overall”.

Opportunities also exist for the league to “experiment with proposed rules, test new equipment and develop prospective officials and coaches”, writes ESPN’s Kevin Seifert. League president, and longtime Bills executive Russ Brandon made it clear there has been productive dialogue with the NFL when it comes to “[advancing] the game of football” overall.

NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent added: “The XFL has shown us that innovation is one of its core principles. We are hopeful that this relationship will support further development and improvements in the game of football at all levels”.

While Garcia insists that a direct affiliation for the purposes of player sharing and development is not currently on the table, this announcement could mark, at a minimum, a sign that the third time could be the charm for the XFL to establish itself long-term. The deal is unrelated to the re-booted USFL, which is set to begin play in April.

 

This Date In Transactions History: Vince McMahon Announces XFL 2.0

Just when you thought there was no chance in h-e-double-hockey-sticks, Vince McMahon shocked the football world. Four years ago this week, the chairman of the WWE announced the relaunch of the XFL. 

[RELATED: XFL Hires Russ Brandon, Doug Whaley, Marc Ross]

The original XFL debuted in February 2001 in a joint venture between McMahon and NBC. The first game reportedly drew ~14 million viewers, but the ratings quickly plummeted. Ultimately, it was a brand of football with no rules and no audience to match. In May of 2001, the XFL ceased operations.

This time around, McMahon said his league would be more professional and less professional wrestling. Unlike the first iteration which featured good ol’ Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler on commentary, this league would focus improving the fan experience with faster play and fewer commercials. McMahon, meanwhile, would not serve as a brand ambassador, choosing to take on more of a behind-the-scenes role.

The new XFL kicked off in 2020 with teams in Dallas, Houston, St. Louis, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, Tampa, and Washington D.C. Early on, McMahon had reason for optimism, thanks to leaner operations and marquee sponsorships from Gatorade and Anheuser-Busch. He also figured that the quality of play would be better than last time, with experienced quarterbacks like Landry Jones and Josh Johnson under center.

Unfortunately, the XFL 2.0 had an even shorter run that the OG XFL. Just like every other league, the pandemic forced them to pause midway through the season. Unlike the rest, the XFL never returned. In May of 2020, the XFL filed for bankruptcy and became entangled in a number of lawsuits, including one from former commissioner Oliver Luck.

Perhaps the third time will be the charm. Since it’s closure, the league has been bought by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and other investors who plan to relaunch the XFL in 2023.

XFL Hires Russ Brandon, Doug Whaley, Marc Ross

By the time the XFL returns for its third launch, two years without major spring football will have passed. But the Dwayne Johnson-spearheaded league remains intent on restarting again in 2023.

XFL 3.0 made some notable hires recently. Former Bills CEO Russ Brandon is coming aboard as the league’s president, Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com notes. In addition to Brandon’s post, the XFL is hiring ex-Giants exec Marc Ross as executive VP and will bring back another ex-Bills GM in Doug Whaley to work with Ross.

This marks a return to a major post for Brandon, whose 20-plus-year Bills tenure ended in 2018. Brandon worked as Bills GM in the late 2000s but was with the franchise from 1997-2018. Brandon held an advisory role with RedBird Capital Partners, which joined Johnson in buying the XFL out of bankruptcy.

An 11-year Giants staffer, Ross interviewed for the team’s GM job that went to Dave Gettleman. After landing the gig, Gettleman fired Ross, who landed with the NFL Network. Ross, who also worked with Brandon in Buffalo, rose to the post of Giants college scouting director. He will oversee on-field operations, Seifert adds.

Whaley was with the XFL during its second launch, under Vince McMahon in 2020, and worked with Brandon in Buffalo during his four-season GM stay. The Bills parted ways with Whaley after the 2017 draft.

Extra Points: Newton, Patriots, Williams, Bears, XFL

It was widely known that Patriots quarterback Cam Newton wasn’t his self physically during his last couple years with the Panthers. But he recently revealed just how bad his health situation was. In a video he just posted this past week (that was recorded in September of 2020), Newton said he hadn’t felt good in years, via Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com. “Last time I’ve been healthy?” Newton said. “Honest, 2016.”

I threw an interception,” Newton explained, describing the shoulder injury he first suffered in December of 2016. “I tried to go make the tackle, and I tried to push him out, and I extended my arm, and I messed up my AC joint. And ever since then, there’s just been a part of me that’s just been a wounded dog. Like a wounded lion almost. Just, ‘I’m not right.’ I feel good at times, but when I’m running I still feel it. So instead of running them over, I’m going to turn this shoulder and just go down.” Newton went on to say that he had felt like the shoulder finally healed ahead of his 2020 season with the Patriots. Obviously that season didn’t go how anybody around the team hoped for, and it’s curious timing as to why Newton posted this video now. He’s expected to battle it out with rookie Mac Jones for the starting job in training camp.

Here’s more from around the football universe as we wrap up a sleepy Sunday:

  • Damien Williams was a hero in the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LIV win, but he opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 and his mother having cancer. He was then released by Kansas City back in March, and promptly signed with the Bears within 10 days. It sounds like he knew exactly where he wanted to go, as Larry Mayer of the team’s official site passes along. “Sitting out a year and then coming back, I really didn’t want to learn a whole new system,” Williams said. “Coming here and kind of having the same system, same plays, it was easy for me.” Williams was referring to the similarity in Matt Nagy’s offensive scheme to Andy Reid’s. Nagy, of course, is part of the ever-growing Reid coaching tree, and was an assistant under him from 2008 all the way until becoming Chicago’s head coach in 2018. Clearly the familiarity was important to Williams, who turned 29 in April. With David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen returning from an ACL tear, and now Williams, the Bears should have a solid backfield in 2021.
  • We heard this past week that the XFL and CFL would not be pursuing a potential partnership/merger. That doesn’t mean we’ve heard the last of crossover talk. MLSE, the company that owns the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, was the “catalyst for the XFL discussion,” within the league, sources told Dan Ralph of the Toronto Star. Ralph highlights the Argonauts breaking off and joining the XFL for their spring 2023 season as a possible solution. It’d be interesting to see, and could serve as a potential test-run for the NFL one day playing games in Toronto, something that has long been talked about.

XFL Now Planning 2023 Return

Previously planning a 2022 relaunch, the XFL has pushed back its return timetable. The league is now aiming to come back in 2023. This comes shortly after the months-long XFL-CFL talks did not produce a partnership.

While our discussions with the CFL did not ultimately lead to a collaboration, the effort reinforced our belief and commitment to developing the XFL for international spring football,” an XFL statement reads, via SportsBusiness Journal’s Ben Fischer (on Twitter). “We look forward to seeing everyone for kickoff in spring of 2023.”

[RELATED: CFL, XFL Will Not Pursue Partnership]

Attempting to reboot for a second time, the XFL has evidently determined a 2022 return would create too many challenges. The league release interestingly uses “international spring football,” pointing to the retooling operation potentially being open to housing teams beyond U.S. borders. The XFL’s talks with the CFL provided a good indication the in-hiatus league was open to either having its teams face off against non-American squads or merging with a non-American outfit.

The XFL and CFL engaged in talks that involved a possible championship game between the leagues, with the prospect of a merger also coming up. But the far more established Canadian league is moving on. After the COVID-19 pandemic led to the CFL canceling its 2020 season, the league is set to begin its 2021 campaign next month. The pandemic-induced uncertainty likely led to the leagues’ discussions.

The second XFL effort began reasonably well, until the pandemic halted the season midway through. This led to a messy legal situation and the league being put up for sale. Dwayne Johnson led a resurrection effort, acquiring the XFL last year. While the Alliance of American Football’s midseason demise and the XFL’s in-season shutdown a year later painted a dim picture for spring football in America, the latter remains intent on proving it can work.

CFL, XFL Will Not Move Toward Partnership

A few months ago, the Canadian Football League and the again-retooling XFL entered talks about a potential partnership. Discussions reached the point of a championship game and a merger eventually occurring between the two leagues.

However, the sides may now be going their separate ways. An official CFL release Wednesday morning indicated the league will not look to partner with the XFL at this time. The CFL did not slam the door on a partnership transpiring one day, but that prospect appears dead for the time being.

[RELATED: XFL To Return In 2022]

The COVID-19 pandemic moved the CFL to cancel its 2020 season, but the league will return soon. The CFL is slated to open its 2021 season August 5. The season is scheduled to run through Dec. 12’s Grey Cup, which would be the 108th edition of the league’s championship game. The CFL also held discussions with The Spring League, an American minor league outfit. Those talks did not end up producing an agreement, either, and they came just ahead of the CFL canceling its 2020 season.

Despite the pandemic halting XFL 2.0’s season, and extensive legal issues cropping up in the wake of the hiatus, the winter-spring league — with Dwayne Johnson now its driving force — is tentatively expected to give it another try in 2022. It is unclear how the CFL talks pertained to the XFL’s latest revival effort, however.