Welcome back, XFL. Football doesn’t end in February anymore; the Super Bowl isn’t the end of the game, and spring football is back.
Where have I heard this all before?
Just over one year ago, fans were greeted to The Alliance of American Football. Inside the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, Shaan Washington greeted Mike Bercovici with the hit heard around the world. At Spectrum Stadium in Orlando, Fla., Garrett Gilbert, and Steve Spurrier came up with the “Orlando Special” that enticed fans early.
Shaan Washington can BRING IT. pic.twitter.com/7VqYNk3DwD
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) February 10, 2019
Twelve of the top 15 trending topics on Twitter were of the new football league. With the direction of Charlie Ebersol, perhaps the league could last, making spring football relevant once more.
And before a highly anticipated matchup between the Memphis Express and San Antonio Commanders would be played, the league closed its doors, suspending operations and filing for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Players were told to go home — some even having to pay a bill for their hotels and medical bills while employees would lose their jobs — not even receiving a final paycheck.
How do we know this? Well, you can take the word of what you’ve read from reports or hear it from the horse’s mouth. I was a member of that league and one of the hundreds of employees who lost his job due to lie after lie.
But hey, at least Spring Football 2.0 is back, right?
The XFL made its grand rebirth over the weekend, bringing back a league that had potential promise nearly 19 years ago. In 2001, Vince McMahon wanted to bring a revolutionary style of play, promising bigger hits, better play, and more competitive football.
Outside of “He Hate Me,” what else can do you remember about it?
This time around, McMahon is focused on the on-field play rather than the spectacle that could come with it. Working with Oliver Luck, a former Houston Oilers quarterback, the two believe they will bring the common element loved in the NFL, with new rules to enhance play and speed up the game, this time around would be different.
Well, let’s get this out of the way — damn right, it’s successful. Twitter erupted with joy as the play looked positive, fans were delighted, and everyone seemed to take in the new league. As the final snap came to a close in Arlington, Texas, Luck and McMahon should feel positive about starting a new football league with fans buying into the product.
And where have I heard this before? See February 6th, 2019.
One week won’t define the XFL season. It should mean nothing to fans at the moment. A week after the biggest game in the NFL, fans will be starved-hungry for more of the sport. Maybe the XFL is the perfect hangover cure?
But hangovers end, and so could the XFL before it truly begins. In reality, the league should be set to succeed with financial stability and a few more quality players — something the AAF never honestly had.
For starters, there won’t be an Ebersol running operations in the spring. The father, Dick, helped start the original XFL in 2001, which became a financial flop. Last spring, the son, Charlie, promised potential from the mistakes his father made and became the only league that failed to finish a full season.
McMahon is prepared to invest up to $500 million in the rebirth. This is five times as much as his investment in the 2001 venture. That also will be $350 million more than the AAF ever had even with the addition of Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon.
Cool that Madden gave the XFL all their create-a-team logos.
— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) February 9, 2020
Team names asides, the league has potential. Like really, the Los Angeles Wildcats and Tampa Bay Vipers? Which team parent decided these were great names for a professional football team? Even the Seattle Dragons sound like the name of what an eight-year-old living in the Pacific Northwest would name their soccer team.
And maybe the team names play into the style of play. Those three teams certainly will need help moving forward. Granted, every team will have a few stars, but all three rosters struggled.
DC fans already hitting Cardale Jones with the “M-V-P! M-V-P! chant one drive into his career. ? pic.twitter.com/LCHmWEfEtT
— Eleven Warriors (@11W) February 8, 2020
With several more NFL names in the mix, perhaps the most critical position of a quarterback will be better. But then again, how different is it from the AAF quarterbacks from a season ago?
The D.C. Defenders have Cardale Jones, who recently played for the Los Angeles Chargers. Switch that out with Arizona Hotshots John Wolford, who is on the Rams roster. Houston Roughnecks PJ Walker excelled after carving out a role with the Indianapolis Colts. Switch him out with Titans’ Logan Woodside, who started for San Antonio. Gilbert is now with the Cleveland Browns after being the consensus MVP for the league with Orlando. Matt McGloin replaces him with the New York Guardians.
PJ Walker has an absolute CANNON pic.twitter.com/IeHzhKZIRm
— XFL (@xfl2020) February 8, 2020
And the stars of the AAF? They’re staring once more in The XFL. Jamar Summers continues to shine after his time with the Birmingham Iron with New York, as does Mekale “Big Play” McKay, who was elite for the Commanders. D.C.’s Rashad Ross’ was the league’s top receiver for the Hotshots, and Tampa Bay Vipers’ Reece Horn was the one consistent for the Memphis Express.
The Dallas Renegades will shine in the secondary with Derron Smith — who was the Defensive MVP for the AAF in the Alamo City. Trey Williams for Seattle will be a multi-tool weapon like he was for Mike Riley’s squad in San Antonio. Other players such as DeMarquis Gates (Houston), Terrance Garvin (St.Louis), and Joey Mbu (New York)? You know their names because they were standouts for Memphis, Orlando, and San Antonio, respectively.
Reality check; the same players who shined AAF or barely missed joining a NFL roster will shine in this league as well. The level of talent may have improved in some positions, but has it everywhere? Pass rushers are still wrecking offensive linemen, and outside of several defensive backs, a receiver will have a chance to win regularly.
One of the biggest positives is the television crews and several rule changes. The XFL will make it easier for fans to catch in their team’s road games with deals in place at ABC, FOX, ESPN, and FOX Sports One. Unlike The AAF, who saw most of their games played on CBS Sports Network or NFL Network, fans can enjoy the vocal talents of Curt Menefee, Joel Klatt, Steve Levy, Greg McElroy, Kevin Burkhart and the MVP of the week in Greg Olsen.
As for the rules, you have to like the kickoff. While the AAF removed that segment, at least this league will try to avoid the hard collisions with closer shots. The extra point plays were brought over from the defunct league, but allowing teams to go for multiple points instead of two is a nice touch. And the instant replay that became herald for the AAF’s ingenuity is already taking control with Xbox fans and football fans alike.
Get an inside look during @XFL2020 games ?
Watch the conversation between the replay official and the on-field referee as they review a call on the field ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/0M4Ozz7tmJ
— XFL on FOX (@XFLonFOX) February 9, 2020
All this has the XFL trending in the right direction — that is, until when the NFL returns later this month. As the Underwear Olympics begins at Lucas Oil Stadium and NFL free agent frenzy picks up, how much will people pay attention when their NFL roster becomes relevant once again?
And if play begins to dwindle, will fans begin to tune out? The average attendance was 17,000 in all four stadiums — nearly the same as Birmingham had more than Arizona brought in their first week in The AAF. San Antonio and Orlando produced averages of 20-28,000 per week, with the Commanders posting over 30,000 players in Week 7.
Announced attendance for 4 XFL games ranged from 17,163 to 17,815. Almost as if the league decided 17K was a respectable number for the opening weekend.
— John Romano (@romano_tbtimes) February 10, 2020
We pretend that the NFL isn’t a 365-day sport when, in reality, it is. Outside of several weeks in February and a week or two in July, something is always happening with the league. If play begins to become mediocre, fans start to lose interest, and the NFL takes control once again, will McMahon invest all $500 million or pull the plug on a financial flop?
With a year to learn from the mistakes of Ebersol and the AAF, the XFL could succeed by changing things outside of payment. Mainly, there are plenty of faces from the AAF — both on the field and behind the scenes who are putting their whole hope in this go-around.
For now, congrats to the XFL and all the achievements of the first week. The way things are looking, it should have the league trending in the right direction as year one commences.
But give it to Week 5 when NFL events are competing against them before crowning this a success for the long-haul.
Only then will we know the league is set to last.
– – – –
Welcome to the downside of the NFL offseason. While the Kansas City Chiefs will be celebrating and basking in the success of the season, the NFL truly never dies. While we will always mention something with The XFL, our focus at the Two Minute Warning is still on the league’s offseason.
There’s been news around players and where they could land that we need to get to, so let’s not waste time. Let’s get you caught up on what’s happened since the Super Bowl kicked off, and we haven’t stopped talking about the Super Bowl halftime show.
Wait, is that JUST me?
All Rule Her Majesty, The King
With coaches such as Katie Sowers and Lo Locust finding success in the NFL, it should be far from uncommon to see women coaching roles expand. In our Nation’s Capitol, Jennifer King will be given her first shot.
Two sources tell @TheAthleticDC that Jennifer King will soon be joining Ron Rivera’s coaching staff. That would make her the first full-time African American female coach in the NFL. King was a coaching intern under Rivera in 2017 and a coach on the Hotshots in the AAF. #HTTR
— Rhiannon Walker (@InstantRHIplay) February 8, 2020
According to reports from Rhiannon Walker of The Athletic, King will join the Washington Redskins staff under Ron Rivera. With this hiring, King will become the first full-time African American female coach in league history and the fourth woman with a full-time assistant job in league history. Until her hiring, Collette Smith was a part-time coach for the New York Jets in 2017.
King’s history with Rivera can be recorded back to days in the Queen City. Serving as an intern for Carolina from May through August 2017, the wisdom under the new Burgundy and Gold head coach helped King land in the now-defunct AAF.
Ron Rivera will hire Jennifer King to join his staff in Washington as a full-time assistant.
King will become the first African American woman to coach full-time in NFL history.
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) February 9, 2020
Under her guidance, the Arizona Hotshots were tied for the Western Conference lead with San Antonio at 5-3 until the league ceased operations in April. King then would join Dartmouth College. The Big Green went 9-1 (6-1 Ivy League) and finished second in their conference.
With King’s hire, multiple women have joined the NFL ranks. In time, their roles could expand from assistants to full-time coordinators, having men work underneath them in the future. As doors continue to open for more than men in the league, King’s new contract will go down as a historic moment for all involved in the NFL.
Brady Bay bound?
For the first real-time in his 20-year NFL career, Tom Brady will be a free agent. The Patriots won’t be able to franchise tag him, and with his unrestricted option, Brady is set to sign wherever he pleases. The big question is, where is that?
Both Tampa Bay and Las Vegas could be options — John Gruden would love a surefire free agent move to the new city, but perhaps another city comes to mind; Los Angeles. With the Chargers announcing that they would be moving on from Philip Rivers’ services, they now have an opening under center. And unless Tyrod Taylor looks to be the legitimate starting option, he could be looking for work in an empty quarterback room.
Brady has ties to the west coast, growing up in San Mateo. Also, with the team likely using a first-round selection on a quarterback of the future, TB12 would be a mentor while competing in one of the league’s top divisions. A two-year contract could be all that he’s looking for, and Los Angeles has the money, and value on the roster to still contend in the new decade.https://twitter.com/AdamSchefter/status/1224019742081671175
– Franchise Tag Arik Armstead?
– Let Jimmie Ward walk?
– Sign Tom Brady?
— 49ers by Chat Sports (@Chat49ers) February 6, 2020
Ultimately, New England would need to let their six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback walk to another team. According to multiple reports, the Patriots are still in on the conversation to bring Brady back for his 21st season in Foxborough. But of all the options that could help Brady pick up that seventh ring, Los Angeles could be the one roster willing to dish it out the cash.
Before James Harden ever coined the nickname “The Beard” Eric Weddle was rocking that look. Now, Harden will be able to keep that nickname for himself with this week’s announcement. The six-time Pro Bowler announced his retirement Thursday on Twitter, calling it quits after 13 seasons with three different teams.
— Eric Weddle (@weddlesbeard) February 6, 2020
The Rams signed Weddle to a two-year contract following his release from the Baltimore Ravens last March. He started all 16 games and finished second on the team with 108 combined tackles last season. Following an 8-8 year, Weddle underwent surgery for the first time in his career at the age of 35.
Drafted by the then-San Diego Chargers with the 37th overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft out of Utah, Weddle became a household name on defense. Becoming a staple for the Chargers secondary for nine seasons and spending three seasons in Baltimore, Weddle tallied 1,179 tackles, 98 pass deflections, 29 interceptions, 9.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles seven fumble recoveries and scored four touchdowns.
Is he a Hall of Fame player? Maybe one day down the line. Would I pay for that bust with his beard to be made? 100% yes.
Free agency frenzy
With the start of a new decade comes the beginning of a new free agency period. Here’s my top 10 free agents for this coming offseason.
Missed this during Super Bowl. Free agent Derrick Henry said Zeke’s contract (6 yrs, $90M, $50M guaranteed) is “the floor” for him. What could go wrong? https://t.co/TI8PguqAVC
— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) February 4, 2020
NOTE: (There’s no Tom Brady or Drew Brees because this is long-term deals. Neither are going to get a five-year contract.)
10.OT Jack Conklin (TEN): Offensive tackles don’t grow on trees, and hopefully, Tennessee knows that. The Titans could let Conklin walk after several injured-ridden seasons, but he trended upward in 2019 at right tackle. Teams will always spend money on offensive linemen, and if right tackle is a need, Conklin might be worth it after what he showed last season. Plus, he’s a younger tackle than both Anthony Catazaro, who also is a free agent this offseason.
9. RB Derrick Henry (TEN): I could sit here and say running backs don’t matter, but then talk to Henry after the playoffs. The former Heisman Trophy winner carried the offense to the AFC Championship game over solid defenses like New England and Baltimore. He also led the league in rushing. If you’re going to spend money on a running back, might as well spend it on one who’s built like a fridge and runs like my air conditioning bill.
8. WR Amari Cooper (DAL): You have a receiver who, in four of the last five seasons, has finished with 1,000 yards? Coming off career highs in receiving yards and touchdowns, the asking price won’t be cheap, but if you’re in need of a No.1 target, this is your man. Crap, even a No.2 guy, would work for the right price.
7. TE Austin Hooper (ATL): Hooper might be the third-best tight end in the game behind Travis Kelce and George Kittle. In two seasons, the Falcons product has tallied 146 receptions for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns. Atlanta should bring him back, but if not, someone is getting the next great player at the position.
6. FS Justin Simmons (DEN): Let’s put it this way; do you have a ball-hawking safety? Do you need one? Simmons has been just that every season in Denver and is worth the pay raise to a secondary.
5.DT DJ Reader (HOU): The reason Reader won’t get as much love this offseason is because of who else is in line at his position. In four years with Houston, the Clemson product has been nothing short of dominant in the middle and a perfect replacement for Vince Wilfork. Perhaps one of the better run stoppers in the class, teams should covet his skills.
4. OG Joe Thuney (NE): If you think finding an offensive tackle is hard, good luck finding offensive linemen who just didn’t fail at that position. Thuney excelled in 2019, playing outside his natural position and taking snaps at center. If you can afford a versatile lineman to a long-term deal, sign me up.
3. OLB Shaquil Barrett (TB): Last season, Barrett finished the year with 19.5 sacks and 19 tackles for losses in his first season as a starter. He’s also only 27-years-old and has proven he can be a three-down defender. Best suited for a 3-4 defense, but certainly, someone teams should be vying for.
2. DE Yannick Nagouke (JAX): Let’s see, what hasn’t Ngakoue done? A double-digit sack season? Check. A Pro Bowl nod? Check. A leader in the locker room? Uhh, double-check. If Jacksonville doesn’t retain him, someone is in for a stud.
1.DL Chris Jones(KC): Jones is a chess piece. Ina 4-3 defense, he will bull rush lineman on a consistent level in the trenches. Off the edge in a 3-4, the same results. With 33 sacks and 72 quarterback hits in four seasons, Jones is an elite defender. And he’s worth every penny he’ll get paid this offseason.
10. Congrats to Chiefs linebacker Dorian O’Daniel for literally being a champion at every level of his life. How many of you have even won a Madden Super Bowl?
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) February 9, 2020
9. Let us never forget Kobe Bryant and the role he had in the media realm. His motion picture, “Dear Basketball” took home an Oscar in 2018. Because of his success, doors have opened for other athletes in the same realm. Congrats on former NFL wide receiver Matthew Cherry on taking home the Oscar for his short film “Hair Love”.
8. Congrats to Ricky Walker and the Tampa Bay Vipers. While your team lost on the field, you’ll go down in history with The XFL as the first player ever to be ejected.
First punch, first ejection in the XFL. Nice job Ricky Walker! pic.twitter.com/0WX1DULKcb
— ThatsGoodSports (@BrandonPerna) February 9, 2020
Wait, players, getting banned for throwing punches in The XFL? WHAT IS THIS MADNESS!?!
7. Remember this women’s name, Camille Jones. She raised three young boys named Arthur, Chandler, and Jon. Arthur won a Super Bowl Championship with the Ravens, Chandler won three Super Bowls with the Patriots, and Jon “Bones” Jones just returned to the Octagon to win UFC 247.
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) February 9, 2020
What have you done for me, Judith Anne? You know, besides love me unconditionally, and given my life joy.
6. Pat Mahomes is back in the gym already? Yeah, just give Andy Reid and company the AFC title again, no reason to see this play out.
Mahomes is already back in the lab ?
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) February 7, 2020
5. Guys, who else misses “Hefty Lefty?” God bless your soul Jared Lorenzen.
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) February 8, 2020
4. Ok, Johnny. Here’s the thing; The XFL fans want you, but the league doesn’t. They’ll fail or succeed with or without you, and you not being in the league might be the best thing for it.
ComebackSZN still alive if y’all ain’t know. Just not playing for another league that’s going to fold on you midway through the season
— Johnny Manziel (@JManziel2) February 8, 2020
3. Even if the XFL goes up in flames, who else would love a short story on Rashad Ross. Like honest question, have there been more than one player to score three touchdowns in three different leagues?
Rashad Ross is in for the score! He led the entire AAF in receiving touchdowns last year with 7.
Ross also had a 101-yard kickoff return TD with the Redskins in 2015, which is tied for the 2nd-longest in Redskins franchise history
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 8, 2020
2. Life lesson; always trust the main source. If it’s not coming from the direct person, you know, like Teddy Bridgewater, it might not be accurate.
1. Remember that really fantastic moment where the kids ran on the football field before the Super Bowl? Well, here’s an awesome behind the scenes look when they found out they’d be living a once in a lifetime moment.
The moment when 32 kids found out they would run on the field right before #SBLIV ?
Looking back at their amazing experience one week later!
— NFL (@NFL) February 9, 2020
Cole Thompson is the Lead NFL writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter at @MrColeThompson.