Heading into this off-season, we knew it would be the start of a Spring Football War. With two outdoor spring football leagues operating at once, the two leagues were sure to compete with each other regarding coaches and players. We watched as ten coaches, and eighteen USFL players were assigned or drafted by the XFL already and we still have the supplemental draft coming up.
USFL Collective Bargaining Agreement
On the surface earlier this off-season the perception was quite clear for players. They believed the XFL was the better of the two options due to the pay scale, playing in host cities, and the amenities the XFL would provide. The USFL knew they would need to make some adjustments to their current way of business. With the USFL players unionizing in June of 2022, the league and the union came together to negotiate a CBA or Collective Bargaining Agreement.
With this new CBA in place, the players have received some compromises from the league, but also were asked to give up a few things from year one to make this CBA appease both sides of the deal. Player salaries went up from the $4,500 reported last year to $5,350, but on the flip side, this came with the removal of win bonuses. However, even that is a win for the players, before only four teams worth of players would get the $850 bonus each week. Now every active player in the league gets the extra $850 win, lose, or draw.
Another area some compromises were made was the housing accommodations. Last season, it was reported that the players received half of their hotel costs, up to $75 each night, for a total of $525 a week. This number has been lowered to $400 per week in 2023. They go from another $2,100 a month down to $1,600 a month for housing. Part of the complaints from players in 2022 was the cost increase finding housing in these new hub cities would bring, so it’s odd to see the players give up anything in this department.
Players who are inactive for games will receive $2,500 each week, as well as a stipend for a total of $2,900 each week. This is where the largest leap of them all came from. It was reported that practice squad players would be paid $1,500 in 2022. To make this $1,000 leap in just one season is huge progress. Especially when you consider how the USFL handled injuries in 2022.
“Demoting” a guy to the practice squad for a week to bring up a healthy player. This way guys like Bryan Scott, who saw his salary cut dramatically in 2022 due to his season-ending injury in week 3, would have made another $9,000 last year. This is no small difference, and it goes a long way toward retaining players who have options like the XFL on the table as well.In fact, with these changes, we have seemingly already seen a few minds change about heading to the USFL. Some had no previous ties to the league.
Three XFL Draft Picks Sign With the USFL
Dexter Williams RB-signed by Philadelphia Stars Drafted by Arlington Renegades
It started with a man who played just one game for the USFL in 2022. That was of course running back Dexter Williams. Signed by the Philadelphia Stars just days before the Championship Game due to the injury to Matt Colburn. Williams would respond by carrying the ball 8 times for 29 yards and catching 4 passes for 73 yards.
The Stars must have liked what they saw in a short stretch because they opted to extend a contract offer to Williams for the 2023 season. Williams was one of the free agents available to the XFL draft class because he signed with the Green Bay Packers after the USFL season wrapped up. Having been released by the Packers, he received interest from the Dallas Cowboys but was not signed.
Just days after being selected in the 2023 XFL Draft by the Arlington Renegades, who had heavily targeted USFL players, Williams re-signed with the Stars for the 2023 season. Williams had been the third running back drafted by the Renegades, and returns to the Stars likely to start or at the very minimum have a large role in the offense in a rotation with the aforementioned Colburn. This was touted as a win for the USFL because very few people believed the USFL would be able to talk players out of the XFL.
Tj Green DB-Signed by Birmingham Stallions Drafted by Arlington Renegades
Tj Green was the next domino to fall. Green is an NFL veteran that bounced around from 2016-2022 after being selected in the second round. At 6’3 215 pounds, he once ran a 4.34 40-yard dash at the NFL combine showing he is one of those height, weight, speed guys that will always find a place on a professional football roster.
Green spent time with the Houston Texans, and Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2022 but didn’t log any statistics. As of right now, he has 103 tackles, and 4 pass deflections in 40 career games in the NFL. He was selected in the 10th round of the defensive backs portion of the XFL draft by the Arlington Renegades. Making Green the second Renegades player to spurn the XFL.
Green ultimately accepted a contract offer from the defending champion Birmingham Stallions to play in the USFL in 2023. This is another big-time victory for the USFL. Green is a guy who could wind up right back in the NFL after one year of playing for the Stallions. Especially given the traits he has that simply can not be taught. Six foot-three safeties that can run like he can aren’t very common.
Rico Gafford WR/DB- Signed by Birmingham Stallions Drafted by San Antonio Brahmas
Rico Gafford is easily one of the more interesting players on this list. Gafford a JUCO transfer began his career at Iowa Western Community College. He ran track and played football. He wound up attending Wyoming University where he played primarily cornerback which is the position he was reportedly signed to play for the Birmingham Stallions in 2023. The odd part about this situation, the XFL selected him in the open phase of the draft and some outlets listed him as a wide receiver, while some listed him as a defensive back.
We never got far enough to find out what position the San Antonio Brahmas coaching staff wanted the man with 4.24 speed to play. Gafford was so athletically gifted, the Wyoming staff couldn’t help but play him on special teams as a return man, and offense as a receiver. In the 2016-2017 seasons he collected 103 tackles, 6 interceptions, 1 touchdown, and 11 passes deflected on defense. He also managed 7 kick returns for 140 yards, adding 1 reception for 7 yards.
After playing primarily cornerback in college, but seeing some time on offense, it wasn’t until he got to the NFL that he switched his primary position to wide receiver. Originally signing with the Titans for the 2018 training camp as a defensive back and kick returner, he was ultimately released before the season. He would land with the Raiders practice squad almost immediately. This is where he was asked to move to wide receiver, spendng parts of the next three seasons with the Raiders, seeing action in 8 games on special teams and as a wide receiver. He would collect 1 tackle, 1 kick return for 12 yards, and 2 receptions for 66 yards and 1 touchdown.
In 2022 he would sign with the Green Bay Packers, but watch as they drafted three wide receivers. This prompted him to move back to cornerback for the Packers. He would ultimately land on the practice squad after final cuts, but his stay was short-lived. He was released on September 3rd. He wouldn’t see any more NFL contracts for the season. Which led him to look to the XFL, and USFL for opportunities.
The USFL may not be “winning” the war if we look at the broader picture, but these moves are encouraging for the fans that lean toward the USFL. This was just one small battle fought and won, when considering the 17 players that were selected by the XFL, and have not opted to re-sign with the USFL so far. We still have about eight days before these players are required to sign their contracts. Could we see more XFL to USFL attrition happening soon?