XFL

Seahawks, Cardinals, Broncos Interested In XFL QB P.J. Walker

The second incarnation of the XFL didn’t make it a full season due to COVID-19, but before that things had been going surprisingly well. Things were much smoother than in the ill-fated AAF, and some players are already starting to reap the benefits.

The Seahawks, Cardinals, and Broncos have all reached out to the Houston Roughnecks to express interest in their quarterback P.J. Walker, a source told Mark Berman of FOX 26 (Twitter link). XFL players are allowed to sign with the NFL starting Monday morning, Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com tweets, and it sounds like Walker could get scooped up pretty quickly.

The Temple product signed with the Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2017, and spent most the next three years on their practice squad. Walker became one of the first stars of Vince McMahon’s upstart league, as he led the Roughnecks to a perfect 5-0 start before the rest of the season was cancelled.

In those five games Walker had 1,338 yards and 15 touchdowns, leading the league in both categories. Now we see why Indianapolis kept bringing him back each offseason. All three of the interested teams won’t be looking at Walker as anything more than a backup, but he could make for a good reserve option as all three have similarly athletic and mobile starters.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

XFL Players Can Immediately Sign With NFL Teams

Now that the XFL has canceled the remainder of its 2020 season, XFL players are now allowed to sign with the NFL or any other league as soon as their exit physicals are completed on Friday, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (Twitter link).

The XFL had only completed half of its 10-game season, and was scheduled to hold a title game in late April. XFL players previously wouldn’t have been allowed to sign NFL contracts until the completion of the 2020 XFL campaign. But now, those players have an immediate shot at the NFL, and Pelissero mentions XFL stars such as quarterbacks Josh Johnson, P.J. Walker, Jordan Ta’amu could find deals quickly.

Walker, specifically, has already drawn interest from the Seahawks after putting together an excellent half-season for the Houston Roughnecks. He was leading the XFL in both passing yards and touchdowns while guiding Houston to an undefeated record, so the former undrafted free agent and Colts practice-squadder could be of interest to Seattle and other teams.

XFL Cancels Remainder Of 2020 Season

The XFL is reportedly suspending play due to the outbreak of COVID-19, sources tell Pro Football Talk. XFL players were notified as such within the past hour, per Adam Caplan of SiriusXM NFL Radio (Twitter link).

The league has since confirmed that it will not play any more games in the 2020 season, but is confident it will return for the 2021 campaign. The XFL, which has played half of a 10-week schedule, was scheduled to field a title game on April 26.

In closing its doors, the XFL is following the lead of other major sports organizations around the country and the world. The NBA, NHL, and MLS have all halted their seasons for the time being, MLB is suspending spring training, and the NCAA has canceled March Madness.

NFL clubs, meanwhile, have begun closing their facilities and canceling predraft preparations, but thus far, the league hasn’t given any indication that it will delay the start of free agency, which is set to begin next week. The NFL has scrapped its upcoming spring meetings, but some teams are frustrated with the lack of communication from the league offices regarding coronavirus protocol.

Extra Points: Broncos, XFL, Vikings, Hawks

Derek Wolfe has made it clear for months he would like to return to the Broncos, but the eight-year veteran does not want to take a pay cut to do so, Mike Klis of 9News notes. Both Wolfe and Shelby Harris are free agents, and Klis adds the Broncos will not bring back both players. It will be an either/or setup, or the Broncos will let both walk and essentially remake their defensive line. Both were starters over the past three seasons. Wolfe has been a Denver starter since his 2012 rookie slate and joins Chris Harris in being first-stringers from the team’s Super Bowl champion defense set to hit the market. Shelby Harris, 28, joined the Broncos in 2017, after being out of football in 2016, and will be in demand on the market. The Broncos met with Wolfe’s agent at the Combine.

Denver extended Wolfe, now 29, on a four-year, $36.75MM deal in January 2016. With John Elway indicating defensive line doubles as this free agent class’ deepest position, it is certainly possible the team moves on from Wolfe rather than give him a third contract — north of that $9MM-per-year rate — as he enters his 30s.

Here is the latest from around the league:

  • Vikings tight end David Morgan missed all of last season because of a knee injury, and Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press notes his contract will toll to 2020. Morgan’s contract was set to expire after the 2019 season, making him a first-time free agent this year. But after spending last season on Minnesota’s PUP list, Morgan will again be tethered to the Vikings this year. The rate will depend on the CBA. If the players reject the owners’ proposal, Morgan will make $735K again. If the CBA is ratified this week, Morgan’s salary would spike to $825K. A sixth-round pick in 2016, Morgan has 16 receptions for 135 yards and a touchdown in his three seasons with the Vikings.
  • One of the XFL’s top players has drawn interest from the Seahawks. Seattle scouts were on hand at Saturday’s Seattle Dragons-Houston Roughnecks game, with Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk noting they were looking into Roughnecks quarterback Phillip Walker. The former NFL practice squad passer has Houston as the XFL’s lone unbeaten, at 5-0. His last NFL connection came in a Buccaneers workout in September 2019. Walker, 24, bounced on and off the Colts’ practice squad in 2018. The Seahawks used Geno Smith as Russell Wilson‘s backup last year; he is now a free agent. XFLers cannot sign NFL deals until the XFL season ends in April.
  • Speaking of the XFL, their kickoff setup has drawn some notable praise. Packers president Mark Murphy is a fan of the league’s kickoffs and its post-touchdown format, Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com tweets. The XFL placing 10 members of the kickoff and kick-return teams five yards across from each other naturally stands to reduce high-speed collisions the NFL has sought to minimize for years. The XFL replaced extra-point kicks with one-, two- or three-point conversions — from the 2-, 5- and 10-yard lines — in its second go-round.

Johnny Manziel Has “Zero Desire” To Play

Over the weekend, Johnny Manziel took to social media to make his case to the XFL. Then, he deleted his Twitter account. Hours later, he returned to the platform to let the world know that he has “zero desire to play any football these days. [I] just love stirring up controversy” (Twitter link). 

Indeed, Manziel has been a lightning rod for controversy throughout his career and post-career. During the early planning stages of the XFL 2.0, many were quick to connect the former first-round pick to Vince McMahon’s reboot. However, the league has shied away from Manziel.

Johnny has his own history, and we have coaches from the CFL who have seen him close up,” XFL commissioner Oliver Luck said when asked about Johnny Football recently. “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.”

This, apparently, marks the end of Manziel’s professional football career. Manziel, who won’t turn 28 until December, has not played in the NFL the 2015 season. At one point in time, the Saints were rumored to have interest in him, but there has been no real chatter about Manziel in NFL circles this offseason.

After capturing the Heisman Trophy following the 2012, the Texas A&M star wasn’t able to do much as a pro. In two seasons, he appeared in 14 games (eight starts) and completed 57% of his passes for 1,675 yards, seven touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He also tacked on another 259 rushing yards off of 46 totes.

Meanwhile, off the field, he’s been embroiled in a number of controversies, including a 2016 investigation into domestic violence allegations. Later, he was suspended for four games in the 2016 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: CBA, XFL, 49ers, Kittle

There apparently could be a CBA vote coming on Thursday, and we now know of an interesting new provision. The proposed CBA would change the way fifth-year options for first-round picks work, letting some top players cash in before they can get to free agency, sources told Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com. “If a first-round pick makes it to the Pro Bowl twice in his first three seasons, the amount of the fifth-year option would spike to the franchise tag for his position,” Florio writes. The current system is a bit complicated, with players drafted in the top 10 getting the transition tag price for their position in their fifth years.

Players not drafted in the top 10 get even less. Obviously this would only apply to a narrow slice of players, but it would represent a big pay bump for some of the league’s elite players prior to hitting the open market. As Florio points out Jalen Ramsey, the fourth overall pick in 2016, is set to make $13.7MM in 2020, which is the transition tag price for cornerbacks. Under the new proposed system he would’ve been set to make $16.4MM due to hitting the Pro Bowl requirement. We just got another update on the proposed marijuana policy, and we should hear a lot more about the new CBA this week.

Here’s more from the football universe:

  • The XFL has received a fair amount of buzz, and things certainly appear to be better set up than they were for the ill-fated AAF. One way for them to get even more buzz would be to land a big name amateur player, and the league is keeping that option on the table. “We do have the ability to sign a college freshman or sophomore. …. We haven’t dipped our toe in that pond, but we could in the future,” XFL commissioner Oliver Luck said during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, via Andrew Perloff (Twitter link). The XFL has had a fairly successful launch, but given that they currently aren’t even offering six-figure salaries, it’s still a bit hard to envision a top college player willingly departing the NCAA ranks.
  • We’ve heard that the 49ers plan to make an offseason extension for George Kittle a priority, and it probably can’t be overstated just how much Kittle is going to reset the market. The report from a couple of weeks ago was that Kittle’s floor would be around $13MM annually, and as former NFL agent and current CBS Sports analyst Joel Corry points out, the top of the market has been stuck at around $10MM annually for a while. Corry notes that Jimmy Graham became the first $10MM tight end all the way back in 2014, but that the market has been completely stagnant ever since. In Corry’s piece, which is well worth a read, he takes a look at how the salaries for the position are going to change big time around the league. Hunter Henry and Austin Hooper are about to be free agents, and several other big names are going to get new deals soon. It’ll be very interesting to see what number Kittle ends up getting.

Dez Bryant Wants To Play For Cowboys

Recently, Cowboys VP Stephen Jonesphone has been blowing up with texts from Dez Bryant, who is hoping to reunite with his former club. This week, Bryant directly confirmed his desire to sign with the Cowboys. 

[RELATED: Cowboys VP On Dez Bryant]

Of course, that’s home,” Bryant told the local FOX affiliate (via USA Today’s Lorenzo Reyes). “That’s home. And potentially being able to play with Dak [Prescott], [Ezekiel Elliott], Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb, Michael Gallup, those guys, [Blake] Jarwin – I think that would be great. I understand that’s their team, but I feel like they have the right pieces to go to the Super Bowl, and I feel like I can help be a part of that, if possible. But every night, I’m just working, grinding, trying to get on that field either way.”

On the verge of what would be his age-32 season and a couple seasons removed from his last NFL game, Bryant is taking a realistic approach to free agency this time around. Once one of the league’s most notable wide receivers, he seems aware of the NFL’s perception of him with regards to his age, late-career decline, rust, and personality.

Bryant was a three-time Pro Bowler in Dallas with three-straight seasons of at least 1,200 yards. After his impressive run, he inked a five-year, $70MM contract with the Cowboys. That’s when things started to tail off – Bryant was limited to nine games in ’15 and underwent ankle and foot surgeries in the offseason. In 2016, he bounced back with a career-high 15.9 yards per grab, though the catch and yardage totals were not as gaudy as his best ones. In 2017, he started in all 16 regular season games, but his production did not match the contract. The Cowboys cut him in the following April – crummy timing that resulted in tepid interest at his asking price.

Heavily criticized for rejecting a three-year, $21MM offer from the Ravens, Bryant sat until the midpoint of the season when he signed a low-cost one-year deal with the Saints. Soon after, he ruptured his Achilles tendon.

After dedicating the 2019 season to rehab and training, Bryant is anxious to retake the field. However, he says he won’t consider the XFL.

Nah, not at all,” said Bryant when asked about Vince McMahon’s reboot. “I know I can still play. That’s not an issue for me. I have high confidence in myself. No disrespect to the XFL, I just know I can play in (the NFL), that’s not a question.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

XFL Commissioner On Colin Kaepernick

The XFL kicked off its (second) inaugural season over the weekend with a handful of notable quarterbacks under center. Colin Kaepernick – the best-known free agent in professional football – was not among that group of signal callers. In an interview with NPR’s Michel Martin, XFL commissioner Oliver Luck once again cited Kaep’s salary demands as a barrier and was noncommittal when asked about the possibility of the former 49ers star joining the league in the future. 

[RELATED: Antonio Callaway Joins XFL]

I don’t know,” Luck said (transcript via NBC Sports). “That was well over a year ago, so I don’t know what kind of shape, you know, Colin is in. And, you know, we haven’t followed that because obviously, again, we want the best players who are interested in playing in our league. That’s, you know, pretty much a requisite for our job.”

On the field, the XFL features a unique rule set that allows for “double forward” passes and three-point conversions. On the sidelines, the players are required to stand for the national anthem. Luck indicated that an exception would not be made for Kaepernick, even if the two sides were able to come to terms on salary.

Players have numerous opportunities to express themselves with all the platforms that exist today,” Luck told NPR. “So, you know, standing for the national anthem we believe is a part of their responsibility as players in our league. But we think it’s important to have that — you know, that requirement for our playersWe think it’s important. We think it’s part of what we as a league should do.”

Kaepernick, 33 in November, has not played since the 2016 NFL season finale. At this point, a return to professional football does not seem imminent in the NFL or the XFL. Among the notable QBs that are on the field for Vince McMahon‘s second attempt at football: Brandon Silvers, Cardale Jones, Josh Johnson, Philip Walker, Landry Jones, and Matt McGloin.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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.