XFL

Extra Points: Johnson, Stefanski, Browns

Chad Johnson’s time as a pro football player might not be finished after all. The legendary former NFL receiver will tryout as a kicker with the XFL on Monday, he announced on Twitter. The tryout in Houston is indeed legit, Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com confirmed with a source. Johnson is 42 now, and hasn’t appeared in a game since the 2011 season. He’s a huge soccer fan, and has often expressed an interest in kicking. Back during the 2009 preseason when he was still with the Bengals, he converted an extra point and handled a kickoff. Johnson became a six-time Pro Bowler with Cincinnati and was a first-team All-Pro selection three times. One of the best receivers in the league for a long stretch, he finished with 11,059 yards and 67 touchdowns. He also briefly played in the CFL a handful of years ago. It still seems like more of a publicity stunt than anything else, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Here’s more from around the football world:

  • The Browns settled on a new head coach in Kevin Stefanski, but they’re still searching for a new general manager. One potential candidate is Vikings assistant GM George Paton, but he’s apparently hard to pin down. Paton has been very picky with interviews in recent years, and the Browns still haven’t gotten a firm commitment from him on whether or not he’ll interview, according to Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link). It was initially reported that Paton had agreed to interview, but that turned out not to be true. Eagles executive Andrew Berry and Patriots exec Monti Ossenfort are also candidates.
  • Whoever Cleveland selects to be their next GM, Stefanski will have a lot of input in the front office. The rookie head coach “will have a large say in roster decisions,” writes Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Kay Cabot thinks they wouldn’t want his help hiring the new general manager if he wasn’t going to have a lot of power once they’re hired. Stefanski is still only 37 and last season was his first full one as a coordinator, but the Haslam family clearly has a lot of trust in him.
  • Stefanski still has some staffing decisions to make, even after it appears he settled on Joe Woods to be his new defensive coordinator. He won’t be hiring a new special teams coordinator, as sources told Kay Cabot that he’s going to keep Mike Priefer as a rare holdover from Freddie Kitchens’ staff. Priefer was Minnesota’s special teams coordinator for eight seasons while Stefanski was with the Vikings, so they have a lot of familiarity with one another. Priefer had previously been STC for the Chiefs and Broncos.

Antonio Callaway Joins XFL

The Tampa Bay Vipers have signed former Browns wide receiver Antonio Callaway, per a club announcement. The one-time University of Florida standout is looking to work his way back towards the NFL following his release from the Browns and a ten-game suspension from the league office. 

Callaway was drafted by the Browns in the fourth round of the 2018 draft. He clicked with Baker Mayfield as a rookie and finished out with 43 catches for 586 yards and five touchdowns. In 2019, however, it was a different story. The NFL suspended Callaway for the first four games of the year after violating the substance abuse policy and he’s now looking at an additional ten-game ban.

Callaway was suspended during the 2019 season for four games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy and, when he returned, he clashed with Browns coaches. The receiver was already teetering on the edge in November when he was hit with an additional ten-game ban for another substance abuse violation, so the Browns cut him. Despite his talent and inexpensive rookie contract, none of the team’s other 31 teams picked him up when he was available.

If Callaway can demonstrate personal growth and perform in the XFL, he might have a chance of someday returning to the NFL.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

XFL Commissioner On Manziel, Kaepernick

The XFL is still weeks away from its relaunch, but Vince McMahon’s second try at professional football has already come under fire for its refusal to allow players to leave for the NFL. In an interview with Thomas Bassinger of the Tampa Bay Times, commissioner Oliver Luck made it clear that the policy won’t change anytime soon. 

If there’s one thing we learned from watching the Alliance it was that quarterback play is critical,” Luck said. “In the game of football today — whether it’s pro, college or even high school arguably — your quarterback play is determinative. So we made an effort to sign guys, some of whom played in the AAF but the vast majority didn’t.”

The league’s policy already prevented Josh Johnson from joining the Lions back in November. Critics felt that the XFL should have allowed the veteran to go to Detroit, but Luck & Co. held him to his commitment with the Los Angeles Wildcats.

We said, ‘No, we’re keeping him. He ours. He signed a contract. He’s committed to us,’” Luck said. “Once a player signs a contract — once he passes his physical and signs a contract — then he’s under contract with us. We won’t release that player to the NFL until after our season. We need certainty. We can’t just have guys peeling off.”

Luck also disclosed that the Steelers inquired on Landry Jones and Phillip Walker after Ben Roethlisberger‘s injury. The XFL, of course, turned down both requests.

While the XFL protects its own signal callers, they won’t go chasing the two biggest names on the open market. Luck sounded less than enthusiastic about the possibility of Johnny Manziel and Colin Kaepernick joining the fledgling league.

“Johnny has his own history, and we have coaches from the CFL who have seen him close up,” Luck said when asked about Johnny Football. “He was in the draft pool. Coaches and scouts looked at him and didn’t think he was going to help their team. I think the guys we have on our teams are the best 560 that aren’t playing in the National Football League.”

As for Kaepernick, Luck characterized his “salary demands” as being “way out of [the XFL’s] ballpark.” As a result, he was “never really a viable option,” for the league.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

XFL Blocks Lions From Signing Josh Johnson

The XFL blocked the Lions from signing quarterback Josh Johnson, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). Johnson, who was assigned to the Los Angeles Wildcats last week, cannot get out of his commitment without the permission of the fledgling league. 

XFL execs, including owner Vince McMahon and CEO Oliver Luck, have spoken about the idea of partnering with the NFL in some capacity to serve as a breeding ground for talent. At the same time, the XFL is understandably protective of its top talents. Johnson, who has been signed by 13 NFL teams over the course of his career, offers the kind of name recognition that can’t be easily replaced.

This isn’t Johnson’s first rodeo in professional football outside of the NFL. He was also a part of the UFL and the short-lived AAF, so he’s encountered similar situations before.

Meanwhile, the Lions will continue to search for quarterback support in the wake of Matthew Stafford‘s injury. Stafford wants to keep playing, but the Lions are reportedly thinking about shutting him down for the year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Chickillo, Packers, XFL

The Steelers aren’t going to have to worry about an Anthony Chickillo suspension. The linebacker was arrested last month on charges of assaulting his girlfriend, but the charges were later dropped. The NFL conducted their own inquiry, and determined there was “insufficient evidence and the investigation is now closed with no punishment,” a source told Mark Kaboly of The Athletic (Twitter link). Chickillo was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list after the arrest, but was removed from it a few weeks back. He ended up only missing one game, a win over the Dolphins, due to the incident. He plays a rotational role on defense while also playing heavy snaps on special teams.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Tough blow for Cole Madison, as the young Packers offensive lineman suffered a torn ACL during practice earlier this week, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link). It’s an especially brutal setback for Madison, who has had a rough start to his NFL career. A fifth-round pick out of Washington State back in 2018, he missed his entire rookie season with a personal issue. There were reports that Madison might never play football again, and that his decision to step away was connected to the suicide of college teammate Tyler Hilinski. Madison had yet to play this season as he was working his way back from a separate injury. Hopefully he can return for a healthy 2020.
  • The XFL is getting another relative big name. Former Steelers receiver Eli Rogers will be playing in the upstart league when it kicks off next year, he announced on Twitter. A former undrafted free agent from Louisville, Rogers had a breakout year in his first season of action back in 2016. He developed a rapport with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and ended up starting eight games while finishing 594 yards and three touchdowns. A torn ACL the following year derailed his once-promising career, and Rogers was waived at final cuts this past August. Since then he’s been making the rounds with workouts, but has been unable to latch on with an NFL team.
  • In case you missed it, quarterbacks Josh Johnson, Chase Litton, and Taylor Heinicke are also joining the XFL.

QBs Josh Johnson, Taylor Heinicke Join XFL

Earlier this morning, the XFL announced a series of quarterback assignments. The league assigned Josh Johnson to the Los Angeles Wildcats, quarterback Taylor Heinicke to the St. Louis Blackhawks, and Chase Litton to the Seattle Dragons.

The move adds another bullet point to Johnson’s absurdly long transaction history in professional football. Since playing for Jim Harbaugh at the University of San Diego from 2004-2007, Johnson has been signed by 13 different NFL teams and had stints in two other upstart leagues (the UFL and AAF). While he is unlikely to ever be an NFL starter, his long-run of opportunities suggests he has the talent and mindset to be quite successful in a situation like the XFL.

Heinicke and Litton are both noticeably younger than Johnson, but have NFL resumes of their own. Litton has never appeared in an NFL game, but was signed to a reserve/futures contract by the Chiefs and signed to the Jaguars practice squad before he was released in October. Heinicke has bounced between four NFL organizations. He has appeared in seven games and started in Week 16 last season for the Panthers. Heinicke is a career 36 for 58 on passing attempts for 320 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.

XFL Salaries Lower Than Reported?

Recently, the XFL projected salaries of about $55K per year for its players. In actuality, those salaries could be even lower. 

The salary schedule did not come close to matching what was talked about rampantly throughout the XFL combine workouts and was discussed online by many different sources,” agency Logan Brown Sports said in a statement (via Twitter). “The base salary is $27,040 with per-game active bonuses of $1,685 and weekly win bonuses of $2,222.

LBS represents defensive end Corey Vereen, who was selected by the L.A. Wildcats in the XFL’s first ever draft. Because the pay is lower than anticipated, Vereen says he will not play for Vince McMahon‘s rebooted league.

Vereen is the first XFLer to back out of playing with the league, but if his take on the salaries is accurate, he probably won’t be the last.

The XFL’s two-day draft kicked off on October 15. On Day 1, notables including Christine Michael (No. 6 overall, St. Louis), Tommylee Lewis (No. 13, Dallas), Sammie Coates (No. 18, Houston), Cameron Artis-Payne (No. 20, Dallas), and Jace Amaro (No. 26, Seattle) found their new pro football homes.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Lewis, XFL, Manziel

When Arizona State announced they were hiring former Jets and Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards, the decision was met with a lot of ridicule. Nobody’s laughing now though, as Edwards has done a near-universally praised job turning around the program the last couple of years. Edwards has emphasized that he’s running the program like an NFL team, and he’s hired a bunch of ex-NFL guys to fill out his staff. Apparently, a few of those guys might be eyeing a return to the league. Former Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who serves as an advisor to ASU, is going to be in “serious consideration” for an NFL head coaching job next cycle, reports Mike Garafolo of NFL Network (Twitter video link).

Lewis was fired by the Bengals following last season after 16 years at the helm in Cincinnati. He was never able to win a playoff game but he completely changed the Bengals’ culture for the better and turned them into a consistent winner, making the playoffs seven times and winning the AFC North four times. Lewis caught a lot of flak toward the end of his tenure in Cincy when things got stale, but the Bengals’ 0-6 start in 2019 sure makes him look a lot better by comparison. It’ll be very interesting to see if he starts getting interviews as Garafolo predicts.

Here’s more from around the football universe:

  • Lewis isn’t the only one on ASU’s staff who might get poached. Linebackers coach Antonio Pierce is “going to be a coach in the NFL sometime very soon,” Garafolo says. Pierce spent ten years as a linebacker in the league, most notably with the Giants. The former pro bowler, who last played in 2009, won Super Bowl XLII with New York. Garafolo also highlights former NFL receiver and Arizona State alum, Derek Hagan, as someone who could make the jump to the NFL soon. He currently serves as an analyst for the Sun Devils.
  • The XFL draft was held recently, and Johnny Manziel wasn’t one of the names called. That’s quite foolish from the league’s perspective, opines Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com. Florio notes that Manziel has expressed interest in playing in the upstart league, but XFL commissioner Oliver Luck said the league’s interest “remains to be seen” a few months ago and hasn’t provided an update since. “The sooner they add him to a team, the sooner the XFL will build the buzz that it sorely is lacking,” Florio writes. It’s hard to argue with Florio on this one. Manziel played briefly in the AAF, but hasn’t gotten any known interest from an NFL team in quite some time. He’s already burned a bridge with the CFL, so getting added to Vince McMahon’s league would seem to be his last option for the moment.
  • Recently released Buccaneers linebacker Devante Bond has been suspended four games, a source told Jenna Laine of ESPN.com. Laine reports that he tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Bond was just cut a few days ago, and it’s highly possible the Bucs knew this was coming when they decided to part ways. Bond was drafted by Tampa in the sixth-round out of Oklahoma back in 2016, and missed his entire rookie season due to a hamstring injury. He’s started six games the past two seasons.

XFL Draft Day 1 Fallout

The XFL’s two-day draft began Tuesday. In addition to certain quarterbacks being assigned to teams, several notable players went off the board in the rebooting league’s selection event.

The league divided its draft into sections. Skill-position players (and other quarterbacks) went in one portion of the draft, with offensive linemen going second and then select defenders in another section. Connor Cook was the first quarterback to go in the non-allocation portion of the draft, being selected by the Houston franchise at No. 2 overall.

Here are some recent NFL skill-position players taken:

Here are the notable offensive linemen selected in that section of the draft:

Lastly, some front-seven names of note came off in that part of this event:

For a full team-by-team breakdown, Sporting News cataloged the first parts of this event.

XFL Assigns QBs To Teams

The XFL draft gets underway on Tuesday, but the league’s eight teams already have their starting quarterbacks penciled in. Here’s the breakdown: 

[RELATED: XFL Projects $55K Salary For Players]

The rest of the 71-man rosters will be filled by the two-day draft, which will include the selection of other quarterbacks. Interestingly, Zach Mettenberger and Joe Callahan are in the draft pool, but were not in this initial group.

The XFL season will open on February 8, 2020, shortly after the Super Bowl.