The XFL is suspended for the 2020 season bringing an abrupt, premature end to its inaugural season.
On Thursday news broke from Konnor Fulk of XFL News Hub that the league had “…suspended their season.” The news comes after the coronavirus (COVID-19) was labelled a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation. The XFL followed suit of the NBA, NHL, MLB, MLS and NCAA who have all suspended operations at the present time. So as we enter into unchartered waters, what does that mean for the league?
Firstly, the XFL will have a duty of care to protect its current players and employees who will now be jobless for the coming months. We should expect to see team wide announcements based on how they, and the league, plan on caring for player welfare in the times ahead.
Team facilities will more than likely be forced into cleaning routines but will need to be well maintained if there is a chance football will return this year. The news comes just after the XFL had played half of its regular season games.
Over the previous two years the league has worked so hard to promote and advertise their new product in a positive light compared to its predecessor and now they are back to square one. As is the nature with trends these days the XFL will very quickly fall out of relevancy and will have to work harder than ever to become relevant again.
Will the TV companies still want to cover it? What about brand deals and advertising (BudLight etc.) will they stick around until the league is reinstated? Who knows? And perhaps the saddest of all news, no more beer snakes at Audi Field! The people have been robbed of Week 6’s all timer – dammit!
No official time frame has been put on the suspension but with only about eight weeks of game time left and the virus only getting worse, it’s hard to imagine we will be seeing any more XFL football this year. Truly disappointing news for all.
And so, sooner than we thought the season has ended. What was your favourite thing about XFL 2020? Your favourite team? Player? Or particular game?
Looking back at last season, there were some great games and some awful ones. Amazing throws, catches and runs. Incredible touchdowns. Last-ditch tackles. But that’s the case every year. So what were the events that really defined the campaign? Here’s the @Full10Yards take on what 2019 should be remembered for.
1. Luck finally runs out as Colts’ QB retires
The first headline of the 2019 season was written during Indianapolis’ preseason game with the Chicago Bears, when 29-year-old franchise quarterback Andrew Luck suddenly announced his retirement. Sadly, he was booed off the field at Lucas Oil Stadium as the news leaked out.
The reasons cited at an emotional press conference in August centred on the mental and physical toll of the injuries sustained during his career. Referring to the seemingly endless cycle of injury and rehab, he said “I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live. It’s taken the joy out of this game… and the only way forward for me is to remove myself from football. It’s the hardest decision of my life but it is the right one.”
Touted as a generational talent, the Stanford QB was selected as the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft as the successor to Peyton Manning. He immediately delivered, leading the Colts to the playoffs in his first three seasons without missing a start. His best season, 2014, saw him throw an NFL-leading 40 touchdowns as Indy reached the AFC Championship game.
But during his final four years, he missed 26 games and played in pain most of the time. He tore abdominal muscles, rib cartilage and a labrum, lacerated a kidney, suffered concussion and, in what was probably the final straw, endured a mystery ankle issue that was never resolved.
Despite an injury-blighted 2015, he signed a $140m extension to become the highest-paid player in the NFL, but then missed all of 2017. The four-time Pro-Bowler came back with a career-high 4,593 yards in 2018, and finished his career with 23,761 yards (third on the Colts’ all-time list) and 171 touchdowns.
2. Player holdouts become a thing
The 2019 season saw more NFL holdouts than ever before. Skipping training camp seemed to be an increasingly common and effective tactic as players tried following in the footsteps of Le’Veon Bell, Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack.
There are several reasons why players hold back their services and demand a trade: it’s usually about money so each franchise needed to weight up whether keeping the player active benefits either party in the long run. And in 2019, the results were mixed.
Take Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon from the LA Chargers. With two years left on his rookie deal, Zeke held out through August and got a six-year, $90m contract extension for his troubles. Gordon didn’t. He was looking to prove his value though his absence but the Chargers dug their heels in and leaned on Austin Ekeler instead. Gordon, in the fifth year of his rookie deal, caved after a few weeks of cat and mouse, and slinked back into the fold in late September when his request fell on deaf ears.
Despite being set to make a paltry $1.1 million in 2019, Saints star wideout Michael Thomas was adamant that he wouldn’t hold out, but he did. But boy, did it pay off. Negotiations led to a $100m, five-year deal – a new record for a receiver.
The Texans’ Jadeveon Clowney also had a deal below market value so he sat out all of preseason, prompting a trade to the Seahawks days before the start of the campaign, while the Jaguars’ defensive end Yannick Ngakoue refused to attend minicamp and preseason workouts until his contract was resolved.
There were also two holdouts not driven by the dollar: Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey demanded a trade after a touchline bust-up with head coach Doug Marrone during their Week 2 game against Houston, and Washington tackle Trent Williams sat out the entire year due to the way he believed the Redskins medical staff handled a health scare.
To me, saying you won’t play till you get what you want feels like a spoilt child sulking and stamping their feet. Then again, it might be worth a try if you’re gonna get paid $100 million to zip it.
3. Antonio Brown quits the NFL
The former Pittsburgh wide receiver had a difficult 2019 to say the least. Having bounced around three different teams in under a year, he tried to claim back around $40 million in unpaid wages, fines, guarantees and bonuses from the Raiders and the Patriots.
Oakland acquired him from the Steelers but cut him before Week 1, creating a flurry of complaints concerning fines, lost guaranteed money and a $1m signing bonus voided because he was axed prior to playing a regular season game. Picked up by the Patriots just hours later, Brown is also attempting to salvage his unpaid Week 1 salary plus another $9m signing bonus, accusing the franchise of breach of contract. Then there’s the two (unsuccessful) grievances he filed against the NFL while disputing the ban on his preferred style of helmet.
And as if that wasn’t enough, Brown was also accused of sexual assault by his former trainer, Britney Taylor, while another woman accused him of sexual misconduct and sending intimidating text messages. Brown strenuously denies the charges but that final claim tipped the scales for the Pats. He was released after just 11 days and one game.
Soon after, AB84 hit social media saying he wasn’t going to play in the NFL any more, as team owners can obviously cancel whatever deals they liked. He also took pot-shots at Patriots owner Robert Kraft and former Steelers teammate Ben Roethlisberger, who had both been linked with scandals in the past without much fall-out.
The investigations rumble on but whatever the eventual outcome, the league has lost a star. The 31-year-old was one of football’s most prolific offensive players with the Steelers, where his 686 catches and 9,145 receiving yards were the highest totals for a receiver over a six-year span. But it has also lost a troubled soul. Let’s hope he gets the support and professional help he needs.
4. Kaepernick holds a weird workout
Colin Kaepernick is undoubtedly a divisive figure. At his peak, the quarterback led the 49ers to consecutive NFC championship games but in his last season, the Niners went 2-14. He has been out of the league since 2016 after kneeling during the national anthem – a protest against police brutality on people of colour. Since then, there has been no love lost between the player and the NFL.
Having settled a lawsuit with the NFL in February after claiming teams blanked him in retaliation for his protests, the league organised an out-of-the-blue, take-it-or-leave-it tryout for Kaepernick in mid-November. He was given just two hours to accept. A work-out for 25 teams was scheduled to start at the Atlanta Falcons’ training complex but amid bickering over terms and conditions, Kap pulled out and held his own private workout at a high school in Georgia, 60 miles away. About six representatives made it to the new location in time.
The workout was clearly a PR stunt by the NFL – probably in an attempt to deflect criticism of their treatment of Kaepernick – but it was his only shot to get in front of scouts. As a free agent, he is eligible to sign with any team and at the time, several potential suitors were being mooted.
Regardless of the motivations behind it, one guy did something out of it but it wasn’t Kaepernick. Jordan Veasy, one of the receivers used in the workout, was subsequently signed to the Redskins’ practice squad, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.
5. A new position is invented: the quarterback-up
How many quarterbacks saw game time in 2019? Would you believe 57? Most teams had to rely on at least one stand-in and in a few cases, more than one. Every week or two, it seemed like a franchise QB was replaced by a stand-in for one reason or another, and with varying degrees of success.
Injuries were obviously the main reason for a swap and for some, there was hardly a blip. 41-years-young Drew Brees lost five weeks but the Saints’ stand-in Teddy Bridgewater held the fort admirably, going a perfect 5-0 in his stead. Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes also missed game time when he dislocated his kneecap against Denver, but veteran Matt Moore ably took over.
Alas, it didn’t always work out so well. Jets back-up Trevor Siemian – pressed into action when Sam Darnold contracted mono – didn’t even complete two quarters before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Luke Falk’s two subsequent starts produced 0 TDs, 3 INTs and 14 sacks. Likewise, after Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow surgery, Pittsburgh were forced to call upon Mason Rudolph and then Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges (both underdelivered) while Matthew Stafford’s deputies were Jeff Driskel (0-3) and then David Blough. The undrafted rookie had a blinding first few minutes, throwing TD passes against the Bears on his first two possessions, but the rest of his five-game run was ‘sub-optimal’.
Retirement also played it part, with the Colts forced to start Jacoby Brissett after Andrew Luck retired, while the Giants hastened the changing of the guards just two weeks into the season, subbing in Daniel Jones at the expense of the outgoing Eli Manning.
But for many teams, starting QBs were benched left, right and centre purely due to their performance. After a mediocre stretch in Miami, Ryan Tannehill took the Titans’ starting job from an underwhelming Marcus Mariota in mid-season and promptly went 9-4, including two on-the-road playoff victories at New England and Baltimore. With 22 TDs and 6 INTs, Tannehill went from ‘work in progress’ for the Dolphins to Comeback Player of the Year in Tennessee.
Back in Miami, Josh Rosen floundered for six games, leaving Ryan Fitzpatrick to pick up the pieces and win five games (despite the team being in full rebuild mode) while in Washington, journeyman Case Keenum paved the way for young buck Dwayne Haskins, the possible future of the franchise. In contrast, Ryan Finley really isn’t the future in Cincinnati. Andy Dalton was benched with the Bengals at 0-8 but the rookie was beyond terrible. After three more painful losses, Dalton was restored.
Likewise for the Panthers, Cam Newton’s injury gave Kyle Allen his chance. After four wins in four starts, he was sacked seven times by the 49ers (with a painful 28.9 passer rating) in Week 8, and was replaced by Will Grier. But he was even worse in his two starts: amid a flurry of interceptions, fumbles and sacks, Carolina lost both by 32 points.
There was one other guy I deliberately haven’t mentioned, as he deserves an entry of his own, so let’s move on…
6. Minshew Mania
Having signed a $88m deal to become Jacksonville’s QB1, Nick Foles went down with a shoulder injury in Week 1. The Jaguars needed a new hero. Step forward sixth-round draft pick Gardner Minshew II.
The rookie put the Jags’ first W on the board in his second start, a Thursday night win over the Titans, and by the end of September, he’d been named Offensive Rookie of the Month, having thrown for 905 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception in four games. The Jags were 4-5 when he handed the reins back to Foles but not before “Minshew Mania” had taken hold.
Not all heroes wear capes; some wear helmets and cleats. And on their days off, they wear aviators, headbands and cut-off denim ‘jorts’. Aided by giveaways of fake moustaches at home games, fans dressed themselves and their kids as Minshew. His distinctive look even became the Halloween costume of choice. With plans for his own fashion range, Minshew has since filed trademark applications for several terms, including Minshew Mania.
Somewhat appropriately for our moustachioed maverick, the mania ended in November (see the UK men’s health campaign Movember to see why), when Nick Foles returned. However, Minshew wasn’t quite done, replacing the former Eagle halfway through a 28-11 loss to the Buccaneers in Week 13.
Looking beyond the hype and hysteria, Minshew racked up 3,217 yards, 21 TDs and six INTs in 14 appearances, and oversaw all six of Jacksonville’s wins. Solid enough production to reassure fans, should he be called upon again.
7. Myles Garrett loses his head
As we all know (*cough*), Rule 12, Article 17 of the NFL rulebook states: “A player may not use a helmet … as a weapon to strike, swing at, or throw at an opponent.”
Well, eight seconds from the end of Cleveland’s fractious 21-7 victory over Pittsburgh in November, that’s exactly what occurred. Steelers QB Mason Rudolph had just completed a pass when he was engulfed by Browns defensive end Myles Garrett. The players shoved each other, then wrestled and grabbed each other’s face masks. The top draft pick from 2017 pulled Rudolph’s helmet off and clobbered him over the head with it.
The ensuing melee led to three immediate ejections, followed by fines for both teams and suspensions for the main protagonists. Garrett’s indefinite ban for his actions – termed “totally unacceptable and inexcusable” by coaches, players and pundits alike – was only rescinded after the season ended. And he had previous: Garrett had already been handed a $50,000 fine for punching a Titans player and two roughing-the-passer penalties against the Jets, one of which ended Trevor Siemian’s season.
At the time, Garret said: “I lost my cool and I regret it. I hurt my whole team.” He later stated: “A win’s a win. I don’t think it’s overshadowed by what happened.” Yeah right, fella – we’re only going to remember the result.
Contrite at the time, Browns Head Coach Freddie Kitchens added: “I’m embarrassed. Myles is embarrassed. It’s not good. He understands it’s totally unacceptable.” But just a couple of weeks later, Kitchens was pictured wearing a “Pittsburgh started it” T-shirt, reigniting tensions just 48 hours before the teams’ rematch. Smart.
8. The Patriots play i-spy (again)
There’s a well-known saying: “To get caught spying on your opponents once is unfortunate; to get caught twice is foolish.” OK, there isn’t, but given New England’s track record, there should be.
In early December, the Patriots acknowledged that a video crew working for them filmed the Bengals’ sideline during their game with the Browns, violating league rules in much the same way they did in 2007 during the original Spygate scandal. The Patriots admitted that a crew, making an online series titled “Do Your Job”, inappropriately filmed the field from the press box, and failed to inform the Bengals and the league of their intentions. They did, however, hand over all footage. In a statement, the Patriots accepted full responsibility for the incident (blamed on an error with credentials) but Bill Belichick distanced himself and the team from the shenanigans.
When confronted by security, the video guy reportedly said he was an employee of Robert Kraft, not the team itself. That’s very interesting, as a key witness 12 years ago told investigators that was exactly what he’d been told to say if caught.
The seized tape apparently showed eight minutes of footage focusing on Bengals coaches signalling during the game. Sounds incriminating enough to me, especially with a game with Cincy coming up. Yet according to the NFL investigation, there was no clear evidence of the Patriots trying to gain a competitive advantage.
Maybe it was just a communication breakdown but with the Pats also at the centre of the 2015 Deflategate scandal, I can’t help thinking “there’s no smoke without fire” – and that is a well-known saying.
9. Tough Mudder comes to the NFL
In October, the Super Bowl-bound 49ers faced the Redskins at FedEx Field, holding them to 154 total yards and zero points in a 9-0 win. The game was played in appalling conditions: driving wind and rain turned the already substandard field into a quagmire, with many players struggling to keep their feet in the pooling surface water.
Not surprisingly, literally nothing of any note happened during the regulation 60 minutes (check out the box score if you like). ‘Skins QB Case Keenum made nine throws for 77 yards and Washington had -7 net yards in the fourth quarter. On the other side, Jimmy G only made 12 of 21 attempts and the game’s only points came courtesy of Robbie Gould’s boot.
That’s why the game will be remembered for what happened after the last play. Nick Bosa sacked Keenum as the clock hit zero and celebrated with a headfirst slide 10 yards across the grass. Fully embracing the conditions and their inner child, several teammates joined in. Before you knew it, a pack of white jerseys (OK, brown) were skimming across the sodden field like body-boarders.
Niners defensive end Deforest Buckner said. “It was a lot of fun. It was definitely worth it. Everybody started sliding around. It was like a bunch of little kids out there. That’s part of the game, having fun. Right now, we’re having a lot of fun.” Cornerback Richard Sherman added: “It takes you back to being a kid: you’re sloshing around and your shoes are full of water and mud. Guys had a lot of fun slipping and sliding out there.”
10. A new UK venue earns its spurs
Coming to London for regular season games since 2007, the NFL continues to grow over here. British fans sport flags, foam fingers, face paint and the jerseys of all 32 teams. We hang out like old friends, then scrap like alley cats for the merchandise fired into the crowd by the ‘party patrol’. And then there’s the possibility of a London-based franchise.
In 2019, we got four games for the first time as the all-singing-and-dancing Tottenham Hotspur Stadium joined Wembley as a UK International Series venue. In early October, the Oakland Raiders saw off the Chicago Bears in front of 60,463 people. The Raiders led 17-0 at half-time, the Bears fought back with 21 unanswered points but Oakland eventually triumphed 24-21.
But it wasn’t Josh Jacobs’s late TD or Gareon Conley’s game-ending interception that will stand the test of time. It was the authentic experience created by an arena built to NFL specifications that went down so well with players, coaches and fans. The dual-purpose venue has a grass football pitch (used just five days earlier for Spurs’ 7-2 Champions league defeat to Bayern Munich) that retracts beneath the stand, revealing a synthetic, NFL-ready surface. Then there’s the bespoke, super-sized locker rooms and conference suites for both teams.
No wonder Raiders QB Derek Carr liked it so much. “Everything is first class, every little detail,” he said afterwards. “This is definitely one of, if not the best, stadiums I’ve ever been at.” Bears coach Matt Nagy concurred, adding: “It blows you away – it’s absolutely phenomenal.”
Rather than borrowing a ‘soccer’ stadium like Wembley, the NFL may just have found its spiritual home on these shores.
11. And one more for luck…
We started with a story about Luck so for a purr-fect finish, we should end with one too, even if it takes us over our designated 10 items.
During the second quarter of Dallas’ Monday night game at the Giants’ MetLife Stadium on 4 November, play was delayed for a few minutes when a black cat trotted onto the field. Displaying Amari Cooper-esque speed and agility, the elusive feline evaded players, officials, stewards and security with some neat route running and play-action before heading off under one of the stands.
Game caller Kevin Harlan had a ball, providing play-by-play commentary on the moggy’s progress: “Now he’s at the five… he’s walking to the three… he’s hit the two. A state trooper has come on to the field and the cat runs into the end zone! That. Is. A. Touchdown!”
The black cat seemed to give the Giants instant bad karma, as the home side threw away a 9-3 lead to eventually lose 37-18. And for weeks afterwards, superstitious fans clocked the fact that the ‘cat’ teams – the Lions, Panthers, Bengals and Jaguars – couldn’t buy a win for love nor money. In fact, it took almost a month, when Cincy beat the Jets on 1 December, for the hex to be lifted.
With the franchise tag deadline and free agency looming, it’s time for the @Full10Yards top 10 free agents list (five on each side of the ball) and some thoughts on where they might land ahead of the 2020 season.Thanks to Instagram, we know the 41-year-old Drew Brees is returning to the Superdome for at least another year with the Saints. So while he’s technically still a free agent, he isn’t on this list. So who is? Let’s spin the wheel…
TOP OFFENSIVE FREE AGENTS
Image Credit: Paul Sancya/AP
1. Dak Prescott (QB) – Dallas Cowboys
He began his time at Dallas by winning Offensive Rookie of the Year and most recently, he led one of the league’s top offenses, throwing for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns in his best campaign yet.
But the cheap deal has run out and someone has to pay the dude. Will it be the Cowboys? It seems they’ll have to go north of $30 million a year, which begs the question “Is he actually worth that?” That’s quite a pay-out but the Cowboys seem to want to build around him. Being the franchise poster-boy for the next few years comes at a price.
Safe bet:Dallas. To quote Jerry Jones, “He’s our quarterback of the future” so it looks increasingly likely that the Cowboys will retain Prescott. He’ll want to cash in on his potential and Jones will make him a happy camper.
Long shot:Dallas. Nope, it’s still the Cowboys. Al three of the team’s most valuable players have expiring contracts (that’s Amari Cooper and Byron Jones too) and it’ll be hard to keep all three. With contract talks back up and running again, Dak seems to be the one who’s going nowhere.
Image credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
2. Amari Cooper (WR) – Dallas Cowboys
Oh boy, do the ‘Boys have free agency headaches. The former Raider filled Dez Bryant’s cleats well but well enough to get top dollar? He’s not perfect but he’s the best receiver available and by that score, he won’t come cheap. If Dallas don’t think he’s worth $20 million a year, or think that paying Prescott, Cooper and corner Byron Jones will break the bank, he might walk.
Safe bet:Dallas. Theoretically, Jerry Jones could pay Dak and tag Cooper, keeping another star in the Lone Star State and giving Coach Mike McCarthy quite the toolkit in his first season.
Long shot:Washington. The Redskins have the cap space to pull the trigger. Imagine if their divisional rivals snaffled Cooper to go alongside rising stars Terry McLaurin and Dwayne Haskins.
Image Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel
3. Ryan Tannehill (QB) – Tennessee Titans
I doubt any player boosted his reputation more in 2019 than Tannehill. His sensational second-half of the season, leading Tennessee well into the playoffs, suggests he may have more to offer than the waning old men, Brady and Rivers.
He resurrected his own career and the Titans’ season, and will probably get a tag of some sort. He obviously benefitted from Derrick Henry’s success, but he seemed pretty mobile in the pocket and kept making the throws asked of him.
Safe bet: Tennessee. The Titans shouldn’t overpay a guy who had three good months and who might not hit the same dizzy heights again but the franchise tag buys them a year’s grace.
Long shot:New England. Neither GM Jon Robinson nor HC Mike Vrabel seem that upbeat about him and the Brady-to-Nashville whispers just won’t go away. With a straight swap, could the reincarnated Tannehill continue his renaissance under Bill Belichick?
Image Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
4. Derrick Henry (RB) – Tennessee Titans
Henry was the top rusher in the league last year, with 1,540 yards and 18 TDs. Going for over 180 yards in both his postseason games, there’s no hint of him easing up or slowing down.
Despite helping the Titans ride their late-season wave of glory, Henry is a running back. And these days, they don’t keep getting paid, especially if they’re a non-factor in the receiving game (Henry had just 28 targets all year). Like Dallas, the Titans have two big contracts to sort out. They could pay Tannehill first and then see what they can offer Henry, or vice versa.
Safe bet: Tennessee. He’s among the top RBs, on a resurgent team with a decent O-line, and in a system that clearly works for all concerned. Why leave Nashville?
Long shot: Houston. With Carlos Hyde unlikely to stay, adding a tank like Henry to the backfield could help the Texans take the next step in 2020.
Image Credit: Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire
5. AJ Green (WR) – Cincinnati Bengals
Valuing AJ Green is a toughie. He was an elite wideout when we last saw him but thanks to toe and ankle injuries, that was 18 months ago. Despite being 31 and without any tape from last season, Green should still have some juice in the tank. We just don’t know how much.
Green wants to stay if the price is right. If healthy, Green would be the ideal pro to help Joe Burrow ease into the NFL, having had 1,000-yard seasons in six of his eight years in the NFL. Cincy didn’t trade him during the season so it’s hard to see him going now.
Safe bet:Cincinnati. Just a few weeks ago, Green said he wanted to be a Bengal his whole career. The most likely scenario is that he stays for a prove-you’ve-still-got-it year.
Long shot: Las Vegas. If contract talks break down or Green is tagged-and-traded, the Raiders could do with a skill position upgrade. They are sorted for slot receiver, running back and tight end but a true outside track star would be the missing piece.
TOP DEFENSIVE FREE AGENTS
Image Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
1. Chris Jones (DT) – Kansas City Chiefs
If Jones hits the open market, he is primed to get paid. $18 million a year is the going rate for a wrecking ball of a defensive tackle who’s notched 24.5 sacks in the last two seasons. Jones is a rare beast who can dominate games… even alongside Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes.
An explosive pass rusher and Pro-Bowler who can stand shoulder to shoulder with Aaron Donald and JJ Watt, Jones could expect top whack. But can the Chiefs (available cap space: $13.7 million) afford him, having given something in that ballpark to Frank Clark already? A monster extension to Mahomes will also be needed when the time comes.
Safe bet:Kansas City: The Chiefs should keep Jones but may need to tag him for at least another year.
Long shot:Indianapolis. Maybe KC apply the tag but trade him for draft compensation. The Colts could be up for such a move, as they have draft picks to play with and need some pass-rush help.
Image Credit: Michael Reaves/Getty Images
2. Shaquil Barrett (EDGE) – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
As mentioned in a recent season in review piece, Bruce Arians said of Barrett: “He ain’t going anywhere.” Given his league-leading 19.5 sacks in 2019, they can’t let him walk but there’s still a chance that Barrett is a one-hit wonder. His four seasons in Denver were decent enough but in that time, he only got 14 sacks. That muddies the water somewhat.
Safe bet:Tampa Bay. He’ll stay put, although it would be wise for the Bucs to use the franchise tag and check last year wasn’t a fluke. Then, he will seriously reap the rewards down the line if he continues on his current trajectory.
Long shot:Tampa Bay. He’s already talked of giving Tampa a “home-town discount” due to Florida’s income tax arrangements so that’s another tick in the “not going anywhere” column.
Image Credit: Chris Szagola/Associated Press
3. Jadeveon Clowney (EDGE) – Seattle Seahawks
Clowney is an enigma. His production doesn’t live up to the billing – he had just three sacks last year and is yet to hit double figures – and he’s had some niggly injuries. But he produces big, game-defining moments, and he’s got the time and potential to grow as a pass rusher.
For a change, I’m not predicting a franchise tag scenario here because the Seahawks agreed not to use it when they acquired him from Houston. And they got him for a song in the first place. So despite non-elite production, Clowney can expect to become one of the highest-paid defenders in the NFL. We’re talking something like $100 million over five years. Ouch.
Safe bet:Seattle. It’s no secret that Russell Wilson wants him to stay and Head Coach Pete Carroll won’t want to further weaken a defensive line that ranked 31st in pass rushing last year. We’ll see him at CenturyLink Field next season for sure.
Long shot: Houston: I know, I know, but bringing Clowney back might not be as dumb as it sounds. The Texans’ passing defence was porous and JJ Watt isn’t getting any younger, so a newer model could give their edge rushing a timely boost.
Image Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
4. Yannick Ngakoue (Edge) – Jacksonville Jaguars
Think of him like those Velociraptors in the original Jurassic Park film, sneaking in – quickly and silently – hunting down quarterbacks and flaying them alive with their oversized talons… err, sorry, got a bit carried away there. It’s actually more like rushing the passer, getting sacks and forcing errors.
He’s clocked 37.5 sacks through his first four seasons but if he gets elite money now, he’s getting overpaid.
Safe bet:Jacksonville. He’s still young and even in an off-year like 2019, Ngakoue’s eight sacks and 50 total pressures last season – his lowest since he was a rookie – was quite a nice floor.
Long shot:Buffalo. The Jags are strapped and it’ll cost a cool $20 million to keep him. But the Bills have the dosh. They are also losing Lorenzo Alexander to retirement and Shaq Lawson is also hitting free agency, so could have a couple of major gaps to fill.
5. Justin Simmons (Safety) – Denver Broncos
Big, fast and springy, Simmons is a run-breaker and a ball hawk, with 94 tackles and four interceptions in 2019. Those stats made the 26-year-old Pro Football Focus’ top safety last season, signalling a massive step up this year. But the teams sniffing around will need to kick the tyres to make sure he’s not another one-year breakout player getting top dollar for one unrepresentative season.
Safe bet: Denver. Simmons has evolved from a third-round draft pick into an essential element of the Broncos D so I suspect keeping him in Mile High City is a priority for John Elway, even if it’s via the franchise tag for now.
Long shot: San Francisco. If the Niners can’t keep hold of Jimmie Ward, especially given his history with injuries, yer man Simmons could be a great fit in the Bay.
ALSO IN THE PICTURE
Tom Brady (QB), New England Patriots
I couldn’t not mention Brady, could I? Time is catching up with TB12 after 20 seasons but given his stature in the game, he will still turn heads, even though he’s on the wane – he was only the 11th-ranked quarterback in 2019. I doubt he’ll want to up-sticks and start again at the ripe old age of 43 so staying in New England for one last hurrah with Uncle Bill Belichick before he sails off into the sunset doesn’t seem unreasonable. But if you wanna gamble and put it all on red, the Las Vegas Raiders have a youthful core and the financial where-with-all to add weapons around him.
Philip Rivers (QB), Los Angeles Chargers
Although a relative spring chicken (a mere 38), Rivers’ arm isn’t what it was, what little mobility he had is long gone and he had 20 INTs last year. That said, he also threw for more than 4,600 yards and 23 touchdowns so all is not lost. Rivers won’t be back in LA so again, Indianapolis would make a lot of sense. Their offensive line works and Rivers would be reunited with former Chargers QB assistant Frank Reich. Thinking more out of the box, he’s just moved to his family to Florida. Tampa Bay anyone?
Jameis Winston (QB), Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis is your guy if you want a bucketload of throws, thousands of yards, loads of touchdowns and a million interceptions. He’s high risk, high stakes, high reward. The Buccaneers are considering living dangerously again by bringing back the all-and-nothing QB, using the franchise tag for damage limitation. Failing that, the IndianapolisColts GM said the jury’s still out on Jacoby Brissett.
Brandon Scherff (G), Washington Redskins
Scherff is a run-blocking guard who might have broken into the top 10 if he’d stayed healthy. Despite taking to the field only 19 times in two years, he’s arguably the best interior lineman in this year’s free agent class. The three-time Pro Bowler and former first round pick should stay with the Redskins under new HC Ron Rivera but if he doesn’t, let’s pretend for a moment the Cincinnati Bengals actually engaged in free agency. Scherff would help a terrible O-line protect some young whippersnapper called Burrow.
Byron Jones (CB), Dallas Cowboys
Despite hip surgery last offseason, Jones backed up his breakout 2018 campaign with another top year. Versatile enough to also play safety, Jones will be the top corner on the market which, according to the laws of supply and demand, means he’ll get paid above and beyond his ability. Minnesota could improve at corner, with Xavier Rhodes’ form falling away and Trae Waynes heading for free agency, while the Philadelphia Eagles could help their injury-ravaged secondary by poaching from a divisional rival.
That’s a sentence you’re not used to hearing in February, right?
This time of year is usually the beginning of a seven month drought which sees us clutching on to any form of relevant and somewhat interesting football news. Hypothetical trades, mock drafts, and record predictions for teams in the new season, which we all know doesn’t always go to plan (I’m talking to you, Adam Rank).
But finally, after a lot of build-up, exciting rules announcements and the occasional familiar name being thrown into the mix… It’s time for the XFL.
The following is a preview of each of the opening four games followed by my own personal predictions for the games which at this point are complete stabs in the dark but worth a go anyway.
Seattle Dragons @ D.C Defenders
The opening game of the second installment of XFL football comes from Audi Field in Washington D.C where the Dragons take on the Defenders. Both of these teams are the second professional football team in their respective cities, something which could be worth looking into regarding attendance and fan support.
The Defenders are being led by Cardale Jones at quarterback, someone who is already being touted as the potential league MVP before it even kicks off. Jones spent a short time in the pro’s, mostly as a backup or a third stringer. He was drafted 139th overall by the Buffalo Bills in 2016 but has never played more than a half of professional football.
His career stat line: 6/11 98yds, 0TD, 1INT 46.0QBR
D.C Head Coach Pep Hamilton is more than qualified to lead this team to multiple victories this year. He has years of experience working as a positional coach in the NFL for several teams and was the Colts Offensive Coordinator for two years from 2013-15. The significance of this is that during that time he worked closely with Andrew Luck, someone who he also coached during his time at Stamford.
Why exactly is this important? Well for the success Luck had in his short NFL career, I don’t think it would be a bad idea for Cardale Jones to pick the brain of his new HC. Luck and Jones also have extremely similar measurables, something Hamilton might hope to take advantage of and craft Jones into a Luck style player.
Comparison: Luck v Jones
40 Yard Dash
The Seattle Dragons signal caller goes by the name of Brandon Silver. Silver has no NFL in game experience despite trying out at the New Orleans Saints rookie minicamp and spending a month as a member of the New York Jets. He did however play for the Memphis Express in the short while that the AAF existed. He sat behind Johnny Manziel as a backup before taking over the starting job after a Manziel injury.
His AAF Stat line: 80/125 799yds, 4TD, 2INT, 86.1QBR
Despite not being the most decorated player at his position, he is at least being coached by someone who knows how to lead a franchise. Former Seattle Seahawks lefty QB; Jim Zorn.
Zorn was the Seahawks quarterback for the first eight years of the franchise’s existence. He made it a weekly habit of finding NFL Hall of Famer Steve Largent in the end zone and now they are both members of the Seattle ring of honour.
In his professional coaching career he has been an assistant and also spent one year has the Head Coach of the Washington Redskins (08-09). Jim Zorn Washington revenge game, anybody?
What is key is that Zorn will know exactly what the city of Seattle will want to see from their Dragons. He knows the city, he knows the fans, he knows the seriousness and with that I think he will have the Dragons performing at a high level all year.
This should be a great game to kick off the season, the fireworks and hoopla of the rebirthed XFL will no doubt add to the festival like occasion and hopefully there will be fireworks on the field too. Explosive plays, new kick offs and extra point rules all to be seen this weekend.
Prediction:My week one stab in the dark prediction is for Seattle to win a crowd silencer on the road in D.C with a final score of 34-17.
Los Angeles Wildcats @ Houston Roughnecks
The late slot on Saturday takes us to TDECU stadium in Houston where the Roughnecks will host the Los Angeles Wildcats. The 40,000 seater arena is the battleground for the first primetime matchup of the season.
Houston Quarterback P.J Walker, who played is college ball at Temple, is, by his own admission an undersized quarterback. At 5’ 11” and only 214lbs he draws the pro sized comparison to Russell Wilson and a quick look at his tape shows his footballing ability is similar too. Walker has excellent escape ability when he feels pressure and can get the job done either by rushing or make accurate throws on the move. Despite having this ability to avoid pressure, he doesn’t force early departures from the pocket and when complimented by good protection has the time needed to step into throws and successfully complete the long ball. Something ex-Texans receiver Sammie Coates will be happy about as he makes his return to pro football in Houston. But, when Walker does take off running he has the talent to make defenders look stupid.
The Roughnecks will be running a “Run N’ Shoot” style offence. A pass heavy scheme, it is hoped that Walker can find his receivers deep down field often and force teams to meet their high scoring targets if they have any hopes of winning.
Fronted by Head Coach June Jones, a former NFL QB and HC for the Atlanta Falcons, Houston will be hoping to deliver key blows early in this game and take advantage of playing at home. Jones won the CNN/Sports Illustrated National Coach of the year award back in 1999 before going on to take on several roles as an assistant in both college and pro teams.
Something to watch in the future: Jones stepped in as interim Head Coach of the San Diego Chargers after the now New York Guardians HC Kevin Gilbride was fired. Perhaps something to keep an eye on in the week 6 fixture between Houston and New York.
The visiting Los Angeles Wildcats have a veteran NFL journeyman at the helm. Josh Johnson has been a member of 13 teams since being drafted by the Bucs in the 5th round of the 2008 draft. A cousin of Marshawn Lynch, he played college football at San Diego. Perhaps an indication of his pedigree at his position, the Detroit Lions attempted to resign Johnson in November 2019 but the XFL denied this request.
Wildcats Head Coach Winston Moss was a professional linebacker for the Bucs, LA Raiders and Seahawks. He worked up 20.5 sacks and 3 interceptions during his career. A defensive minded coach, he will undoubtedly have his hands full this weekend but will be hoping to lean on the talents of his players to execute his game plan and slow down the Roughnecks attack.
Prediction: I think this will be one of the closer games of the weekend but I see the home team coming out on top. Houston wins it: 26-21.
Tampa Bay Vipers @ New York Guardians
Moving into the early slot on Sunday and we will get to see the first instalment of the Tampa Bay Vipers and the New York Guardians. Being played at MetLife this game is sure to have all the feelings of a regular football Sunday.
Guardians Head Coach Kevin Gilbride will be hoping to get his team off to a fast start in the league. Overseeing operations in New York as a play caller he will be hoping his team leave their mark as a smash mouth, run you over style football team, something which is always associated with teams playing in the meadowlands.
He will no doubt be confident that his team can pile up the wins, the Guardians start the season with seasoned pro, Matt McGloin under centre. A former raider who knows all about playing tough.
His Career Stat line: 13 Games Played 7 Started 161/277 1868yds, 11TD, 11INT 75.3QBR
I’m not entirely confident in McGloin’s ability to shine as the star of this league, but I do believe he will be more than capable of managing in-game situations at an effective and professional level and guiding this team to victory. That said, if he doesn’t perform, the New York fans will have no problem in letting him hear it.
Making the trip up the east coast is the green and yellow of the Tampa Bay Vipers. Spearheaded by Head Coach Marc Trestman and Quarterback Aaron Murray, the team travels to New York in the hope of returning to Florida with a season opening win.
Murray, a former Georgia Bulldog was a 5th round pick in the 2014 NFL draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. After bouncing between teams for a number of years, he took up a role as the QB for the Atlanta Legends of the AAF before coming to Tampa in the hope of being the cities best quarterback (30INT Jameis Winston shouldn’t be too hard to beat).
His Head Coach, Trestman, has an impressive history of coaching. Over 39 years he’s been with 10 NFL teams as either an assistant or a coordinator and has had his fair share of coffees elsewhere too coaching in both college and the CFL.
This should be a gritty game, with both teams trying to make some noise in the early Sunday window and gain some attention before week 2. A tough one to call so I’ll give the benefit to the team with a QB who has NFL experience and are playing at home.
Prediction:Guardians 27-20 Vipers.
St Louis Battlehawks @ Dallas Renegades
Potentially the best game of the weekend slot, aptly left to the primetime Sunday evening slot. A city left in the lurch without pro football since 2015, St. Louis fans were beyond hurt when the rams left them and have been crying out for football since. The Battlehawks fans will have to wait until week 3 to see their team play at home but I don’t think that will stop them from travelling to Dallas show support to their team.
Dallas is a footballing hub, the Cowboys have been calling themselves America’s team for what feels like forever and the entire city of Dallas lives for the sport. The Renegades will count as the State of Texas’ 4th pro football team, but they will have no intentions of being known as such. They want to be number one and behind quarterback Landry Jones they are in great shape to do so.
Jones is the forefront of this offense and he will hope to lay down a marker for the standard at which other teams aspire to be at. He was the first player to be selected for the XFL at the start of the team’s allocation process.
Jones’ professional career saw him drafted by the Steelers with the 115th overall pick in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft. A competent backup, he even saw some playing time in the playoffs, relieving an injured Ben Roethlisberger in the 2015 wild-card game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Roethlisberger would eventually return to the game but it is a credit to Jones and his work as a backup that he was ready to go when called upon. I think we can expect to see a great player coach chemistry with the Renegades. Jones and HC Bob Stoops worked together during his time in college. They will need to bring their “A” game in order to stop a resurgent St. Louis side who will be wanting to prove the point that pro football belongs in their city.
The Battlehawks are entering this game with quarterback Jordan Ta’amu and Head Coach Jonathan Hayes. Wanting to implement their status as winners from the start they will have to lean heavily on the knowledge of their HC and the veterans in the team with pro experience such as ex-Seahawks running back Christine Michael. In his career, he amassed over 1,000 rushing yards off 254 carries over a period of 4 years.
First special teams mention of the day, Marquette King, ex-Raiders punter makes his return to football for the Battlehawks in the hopes of re-igniting his career.
A primetime showdown to round out week one of the new XFL season, a game I think will come down to wire. Fourth quarter plays will be crucial and coaches aggression strategies on their PAT attempts will be important in determining a winner. I’ll side with the home team in this one but wouldn’t be surprised to see the visitors get a win.
Prediction:Renegades 28-26 Battlehawks.
So there you have it, the week 1 preview is at a close. Let us know your thoughts on the XFL by tweeting us @full10Yards on Twitter. Whether you love it, hate it or aren’t even going to watch it, we want to know!
Next in our series, we take a look at Captain Kirk and the Minnesota Vikings. Was this season a success? Vikings fans, let us know your thoughts – @full10yards on the Social!
Entering the Season
The Vikings have always had the end goal of reaching a Super Bowl the moment they signed Kirk Cousins to that huge fully guaranteed contract. With pretty much the same pieces on the team, the pressure was the same as last year, the expectations were the same as last year, get to the big one.
Garrett Bradbury was the new anchor at Center and they also brought in Irv Smith to deploy some 2 tight end sets to help #establishtherun.
Kirk Cousins was entering his 2nd season as a Viking with no more excuses, no more mulligans and certainly nowhere to hide. The team was built to reach a Super Bowl and Kirk Cousins was assigned the role to lead them there. Simple.
DURING THE SEASON
If you put the last 2 seasons of the Vikings back to back, it pretty much was groundhog day;
Struggled in the division, with 3 of their 6 losses coming in the division and swept by the Bears for the 2nd straight season. A top 10 defence in terms of points per game and Kirk Cousins stinking it up on Prime Time/island games when it matters. Oh and Dalvin Cook not being fully healthy for a stretch.
They kicked off their season with home wins against the Falcons and Raiders, but away losses in Lambeau and Soldier Field.
Adam Thielen, who would later go on an miss some time through injury, along with Stefon Diggs kicked up a fuss about the offence and their involvement in it led to a lot of unrest in the VIkings camp, including Diggs being fined for missing practice.
They seemingly managed to kiss and make up as Kirk Cousins then went hell for leather with the rock and a relatively easy stretch saw them improve to 8-3 with their only loss before the bye coming to the Kansas City Chiefs (the Matt Moore led one, not the Patrick Mahomes one).
Losses against Green Bay and Chicago meant that they entered the playoffs as a wildcard and a 10-3 record.
Perhaps their most dominant display of the season came in the wildcard round, where they absolutely dominated the red hot Saints andVikings fans thinking maybe, just maybe, Kirk Cousins has turned a corner.
Unfortunately, around that corner was step 1 as a dismal performance against the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round saw them go out with a whimper amidst more rumours of unrest with Stefon Diggs, who visibly threw his helmet to the ground during that Wildcard game.
With no NFC title game being played, you have to grade the season as that the Vikings underachieved and Kirk Cousins really hasn’t gone to prove that he was worth that guaranteed contract or that he is the guy to take this team to the holy land.
Kevin Stefanski has agreed to become the head coach of the Cleveland Browns and Mike Zimmer is likely to be retained by the Vikings.
It’s hard to put a finger on what to do with Minnesota to help them take the next step, though many will still point to the Quarterback position, as they have done for the past several years. There are a lot of well paid players on both sides of the ball and some creativity with the salary cap will be required. It’s hard to pinpoint where they’ll bolster in the draft as one week they look complete and another they have more holes than a cheese grater (NFC North Green Bay Packers joke there). You have to feel that they’ll add something to the offensive line due to the way they want to run their offence, and they’ll probably focus on defence, Xavier Rhodes did not have a pro bowl worthy season.
Come next season, will it be Groundhog day once again for the Vikings in 2020? Probably.
The NFL has nearly completed it’s list of head-coaches for 2020 with just the Cleveland Browns outstanding but seem poised to sign Josh McDaniels from the New England Patriots.
The hiring of Patriots Special Teams coach Joe Judge by the New York Giants came as a particular surprise to many, having seemingly not had enough experience to make the jump to leading a franchise.
Within the reaction to that hiring however, there was also some sighs of disappointment, especially from those who are becoming concerned that the “Rooney Rule” has become stagnant in its attempts to increase the number of minority race head-coaches.
Steve Wyche reported to NFL Network that upon the hiring of Judge by the Giants, that many of the league’s black coaches and co-ordinators were “not happy” with the decision to once again skip over ethnic minority candidates.
Wyche also explained that although the teams were indeed having candidates in to meet the Rooney Rule, the lack of minority hiring’s was alarming.
What is the Rooney Rule?
The Rooney Rule, named after the former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, was bought into existence by the leagues diversity committee in 2003 following the firing of Tony Dungy and Dennis Green.
Given that both coaches had been wildly successful during their tenures, and the fact that only seven black candidates had been given NFL head-coaching jobs until 2002, it was considered important that something was done to deal with the issue.
The ruling meant that from 2003, all senior football operations positions now had to interview at least one ethnic minority for the role unless the assistant coach has wording in his contract to guarantee him the job.
The rules impact was immediately visible as the percentage of ethnic minority head-coaches shot up from 6% to 22% in just four years with the change in place.
There have been a lot of subsequent calls for the ruling to be employed in the Premier League in the UK and US college football where the percentage of minority head-coaches is still just 6%.
Why the Rooney Rule isn’t working.
Although the Rooney Rule was effective in the immediate years after its arrival in the league, the Detroit Lions even being fined $200,000 in 2003 for failing to comply, the long-term success of the rule has come into question.
Jim Caldwell has often been at the forefront of the argument for whether minority head-coaches are getting a fair amount of chances.
Having coached in Superbowl XLIV with the Indianapolis Colts before a successful spell with the Detroit Lions between 2014-2017 in which he took them to two playoff berths and just one losing season at 7-9, the decisions to fire him, let alone to not hire him, were seen as confusing.
It has been suggested that the Rooney Rule rather than becoming a progressive, inescapably positive and definitive fork in the road for the future of ethnic minority coaches, has in-fact devolved into a tick-box exercise performed by general managers and owners so they can avoid a fine.
The agent for Pittsburgh coach Teryl Austin told The Athletic that he felt his client received a “token” interview from the Lions in 2017.
This regression from genuine interviews with a mix of coaches of creeds and colours, to nothing more than a need to fill a quota can be seen in the current crop of candidates.
2019 marked the lowest total of black NFL head-coaches since the creation of the legislation with just Mike Tomlin of the Steelers, Anthony Lynn of the Chargers and Brain Flores of the Dolphins remaining.
What can be done to change the impact of the rule?
As the Rooney Rule continues to struggle to have the desired impact on the leagues hiring process, calls to change the system are increasing.
The concern that the lack of ethnic minorities in front office or ownership positions is becoming more vocal as older, white general managers continue to pick from the carousel of young, white assistant NFL coaches or college head-coaches.
Without disregarding the achievements of Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay or Cliff Kingsbury, there seems are fairly defined theme about the leagues current taste in what a head coach should look like.
As with many issues of race, the importance of education should not be forgotten.
Teaching young players of colour that they have as much of a future as a coach as on the pitch will be crucial to generate a continuous stream of talented young, football brains.
Of all races.
What do you think can be done? Get in touch with us here at the Full10Yards on social media @Full10Yards