The XFL, like all other sports leagues in the United States, saw its season grind to a halt in March. The renegade football league that was rebirthed this year, had made some tremendous strides on the field.
One of the most notable aspects of the XFL’s shortened season was the improved talent it showcased compared to the football league’s first foray nearly 20 years ago.
The NFL and its teams took notice of XFL 2.0 thanks to its head-turning rule changes. But it wasn’t just the rules and tweaks to the game that piqued NFL teams’ interest.
Teams saw some players with plenty of potential leading NFL pundits and bloggers to urge teams to sign the budding stars from the XFL. NFL franchises have followed suit with a host of players no inked to deals.
XFL sack leader Cavon Walker is one of the latest players from the renegade league to land a contract with an NFL team. According to Walker’s agent, JR Rickert, the Pittsburgh Steelers have tied down the defensive lineman to a one-year contract.
It makes perfect sense that the Steelers – and other NFL teams – would offer just a one-year deal due to the increased level of competition Walker will face at the NFL level compared to the XFL. A one-year contract allows teams to cut bait with no issues after one season.
Walker, 25, is a strong defensive tackle who played his college ball at Maryland. The defensive lineman joined the Chicago Bears in 2018 as an undrafted free agent but spent the season on the practice squad.
He joined the Kansas City Chiefs in 2019 and played on the Super Bowl winner’s practice team before the XFL’s New Guardians selected him in the league’s first-ever draft. Walker tallied 4.5 sacks for the Guardians and made 19 tackles. Five of those tackles were for a loss.
Walker offers Pittsburgh – like other XFL talent headed for the NFL – the chance to find a diamond in the rough that can provide depth to the front four. But Walker isn’t the only XFL star to join the Steelers.
The lack of other top-level American football leagues means that developing players is difficult. For years, there has been a call for a minor league development system in the NFL.
The Alliance of American Football was considered a potential league to feed players into the NFL. The XFL could finally be that league and Pittsburgh is on board to take a punt on the group’s football talent.
Ex-DC Defenders safety Tyree Kinnel was snapped up by the Steelers as well and signed a one-season contract. The former University of Michigan player had joined the Cincinnati Bengals last year but was cut. In addition to Kinnel, offensive lineman Jarron Jones and linebacker Christian Kuntz were also added on one-year deals.
All four players offer Pittsburgh depth. But the quartet adds much more than additional bodies to the 53-man roster. All four have experience playing high-level college football, competed on NFL practice teams, and played at a level just a step below the NFL. A one-year contract with a potential team option is a win-win situation for the Steelers.
The list of former XFL stars to sign contracts with the NFL continues to grow. Quarterbacks P.J. Walker and Jordan Ta’amu were two of the league’s biggest stars.
They now have their eyes set on making an NFL roster after joining the Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs respectively. Both signal-callers are expected to battle for the back-up quarterback positions with their respective teams.
While the NFL has raided the XFL’s talent pool and could continue to add more players in the build-up to the 2020 season, the spring football organization will feel proud of themselves for giving players another crack at the top league.
The players who have signed with the XFL did so as a last resort – although there was the chance to play in the CFL – after being overlooked by the NFL’s 32 teams.
There is no guarantee the XFL will be back for a year No. 2. Just like the league’s original run at the beginning of the century, its viability has been called into question.
Although betting on games was one of the key aspects that XFL owner Vince McMahon pushed, television ratings and fan attendance dropped each week. The XFL has stated it is committed to continuing play.
If former XFL players can succeed in the NFL in 2020, the renegade football league’s need as a feeder division could be proven.