The XFL 2.0 was supposed to be Vince McMahon’s return to the football community. It was supposed to be his redemption after his first failed attempt at a football league. He was well on his way to achieving that success. The XFL wasn’t without its bumps, but what startup league is perfect? The fact that the XFL 2.0 was succeeding with innovative gameplay, players who have never really received a fair shot at the NFL level, and former coaches who had varying success over different levels of football was proof that there is room for football in the spring.
As everyone is well aware, COVID shut down all sports for a period of time. The XFL was no exception and Vince decided to pull the plug on the league after only five games. Court documents have revealed since their bankruptcy that the XFL was doing better than people initially thought and that is showed a ton of promise to fans that a second season, possibly beyond, was possible. A nasty lawsuit and falling out between former XFL 2.0 commissioner Oliver Luck and principal owner Vince McMahon later, and the XFL went up for auction in bankruptcy court.
One bid. That’s all that was needed and BAM! The XFL was sold. It was sold to a partnership group; that partnership group? Consists of high profile megastar Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, his long time manager and ex-wife Dany Garcia, who becomes the first female to own a major professional sports league in the U.S. and Redbird Capital, a finance group dedicated to helping entrepreneurs achieve their dreams and goals. They bought the league for a cool $15 million, significantly less than what Vince McMahon backed the league financial for the 2020 season.
Now that it looks like we’ll see a third version of the XFL, fellow colleague Mark Angst and I decided to collaborate on quarterbacks we could see the XFL target to help make this league successful moving forward. Whether this league plays in 2021 or 2022, the XFL needs to take advantage of landing quarterbacks to help the league move forward and prove once and for all that spring football can work. The recent cancellations of the 2020 CFL season leaves a lot of CFL players looking for homes moving into the 2021 season and we could see some familiar names pop up. Mark and I will give a list of our top 4 names the XFL should target and then an honorable mention list to round the possible eight, or ten, quarterbacks to lead the teams into the 3.0 launch!
Blake Bortles – Bortles was the first QB that came to my mind and it makes perfect sense to me. Bortles has had success at the NFL level, making it to an AFC Championship game where he almost led the Jaguars to the Super Bowl. This landed him a nice new deal, but things in Jacksonville didn’t work out and he regressed eventually being released. He landed the Rams for a year where he said he was receiving the best coaching he’s ever received at the NFL level. He’s currently a free agent, making him a prime target that the XFL should consider. He brings legit NFL experience and success to a league that needs good QB play. A perfect situation with a great coach could lead to big things for Bortles that could possibly lead to him being the face of the league.
Nick Arbuckle – With the 2020 CFL season officially canceled, the QB talent pool just become richer with talent; talent that has played north of the border for a few years. Arbuckle took over the reins to the Calgary Stampeders after starter Bo Levi Mitchell went down with an injury. He led the Stampeders to a 4-3 record during his seven start stint. He finished the 2019 season completing 73.1% of his passes for 2,103 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was traded to the Ottawa Redblacks in the offseason to become their starting QB for the now-canceled 2020 season. Arbuckle would get a legit opportunity and chance that he can play the American style game. The best thing about Arbuckle is he’s only 26 years old and if there’s a coach out there willing to take a chance, Arbuckle can be a very productive QB.
Cardale Jones – Jones fired out of the gate of the 2020 season under the Pep Hamilton-led D.C Defenders posting early-MVP type numbers. He has the size and agility to keep defenses guessing. His decision-making ability is his biggest downfall and what led to his gigantic crash back to Earth. Jones was dreadful on the road and mediocre in his last start. But even with that fall from grace, Pep Hamilton mentioned that Jones kept a great attitude and worked harder to continue improving. That’s important for any quarterback with raw talent. Hamilton is with the Chargers of the NFL, but if the new ownership group can entice high caliber coaches, a coach can help develop that raw talent and make Jones a polished product.
Kelly Bryant – My darkhorse candidate for this list. Kelly Bryant had a pretty successful career at Clemson before losing his starting job to the eventual 2021 first overall pick in Trevor Lawrence. Bryant transferred to Missouri and struggled a bit against the SEC talent. The thing that Bryant possesses is ability and athleticism. His raw ability and talent could make an intriguing and valuable asset to the XFL 3.0 if he was able to get paired with the right coach. If the new ownership group doesn’t change too much about the gameplay and style, Bryant could surprise a lot of people on the level that PJ Walker did with the Roughnecks in the 2.0 version.
Taylor Cornelius – Cornelius is a former Oklahoma State Cowboy who thrived in the wide-open offense they run in college. He never really received a shot in the NFL but started to show real promise in the XFL. Cornelius started as the backup for the Tampa Bay Vipers but due to an injury was the starter in weeks 2 through 5 before the league shut down. Cornelius is a gunslinger (pun intended) which generally leads to throwing a high amount of interceptions but with a little extra coaching, he could bring those numbers down without sacrificing his yardage output. Cornelius finished with a 63.8 completion rating and 858 yards in the XFL season. Cornelius is a young bright star that the new XFL should hitch their wagon to for success!
Vernon Adams – Adams is a player from the CFL that I believe the XFL should make a big push in signing. Vernon is a little undersized at 5’11” for a QB but he makes up for that with his athleticism. He brings that extra spark that we saw with the playing style and gameplay from the XFL in the spring; I think he fits their rules perfectly. Adams is a former QB for Eastern Washington and Oregon. He played for 3 seasons at Eastern Washington leading them to 3 conference titles and 3 FCS playoff berths. He also led them to a win over FBS Oregon State in his sophomore season. Adams transferred time Oregon for his senior season and led them to a 7-3 record. He has bounced around the CFL a bit over the past few years but last season in his first season as the starter, he led Montreal to the second seed in the East and a playoff berth. Adams would bring the talent and name recognition to pull in fans from many areas to this new growing league!
Tate Martell – Tate Martell is a very polarizing player. Tate is a dual-threat QB with a lot of athleticism. He even received a scholarship offer at 14. He came into college as a five-star recruit ranked number 2 for dual-threat QBs in 2017 and 56th overall that year. He committed to Ohio State and redshirted his first season. He was then the backup to now NFL QB Dwayne Haskins. In 2019 Martell believed he would be the starter but lost the job to Justin Fields who had transferred from Georgia that season. Martell is a very outspoken player and was not happy about what he believed to be his starting job given away to a transfer player. Martell then transferred to Miami but was unable to win the starting job this season. Martell has the talent to be a good QB but he needs to improve his overall attitude and team-first mindset in order to succeed. I do believe he could be a good pick for the XFL to show other college players there is a place to go if the NCAA isn’t working out for them or they feel they aren’t getting the treatment they deserve. It would be a fresh start for him and he could thrive under professional coaching!
Jordan Ta’amu – There isn’t much to say about Jordan. He was a standout in the XFL 2.0. He led the Battlehawks to a 3-2 record before the league shut down. He was a perfect fit for the XFL style of play. He has good athleticism to make plays with his feet and good awareness in the passing game. He’s a name XFL fans know and love and would help bring a lot of people back to the XFL! I do believe that in the XFL game that mobile QBs had much more success because of the style of play and that’s why I chose 4 guys who can all do it with their feet and arms!
Of course, there’s always other quarterbacks out there other than the ones that we discussed, so Mark and I took the liberty to compile a list of ten other QBs we think the XFL 3.0 could target.
Bo Levi Mitchell, Mason Fine, Philip Nelson, Tyree Jackson, Matt Nichols, Tyler Clifford, Jake Fromm, Cole McDonald, Josh Rosen, and Trevor Harris
That’s our list! Of course, this was written before any NFL cuts took place but certain players like Chase Daniel or PJ Walker could make this list if they’re cut – of course, there’s little to no chance of either of those guys getting cut. But keep that in mind while reading this.
~Michael Washington-Weeks & Mark Angst – AFNN Contributors and Analysts for AFN Sports Talk Live