A financial failure, the AAF still opened doors for players
The XFL will allow players out of their contracts to join the NFL if they get called up, just like the Alliance of American Football did, Commissioner Oliver Luck said.
“I think the agents will be as happy with us as they were with the AAF, if not happier, in the sense that we will be around a lot longer than the AAF was,” Luck said earlier this summer.
That should be welcome news to agents and wannabe NFL players.
Despite its failing, agents and players agree that there was at least one good thing about the AAF: It gave players another shot at their dream. And the fact that NFL clubs signed more than 40 AAF players to rosters in the weeks after it failed proves that a developmental football league is needed, agents said.
“The great thing about the AAF is it did open the door to a lot of players getting signed by the NFL, who otherwise wouldn’t get signed,” said Drew Rosenhaus, who represents more than 100 NFL players. Rosenhaus had three players on AAF rosters and two of them got looks from the NFL; the third, cornerback Keith Reaser, got an NFL job.
Reaser was a fifth-round pick by the 49ers in 2014 and was released after three years. He then played one year for the Chiefs before being cut. Not deterred from football, Reaser signed with the AAF Orlando Apollos, where he recorded three interceptions in eight games and was named Defensive Player of the Week in the league’s second week.
“Keith Reaser got a big contract with the Chiefs,” Rosenhaus said. “He will be making $100,000 upfront with the Chiefs.”
Rosenhaus and other agents say there is a need for a developmental league for the NFL. “Hopefully, the XFL can make it over the long haul,” he said.
Another AAF success story is safety Derron Smith, who played for the San Antonio Commanders before being signed by the Vikings. Smith was a sixth-round draft pick by the Bengals in 2015 but was released two years later.
“He just never got the opportunity to be a starter at any point in the league,” said Smith’s agent, Chase Callahan of Rep 1 Sports. “He was just a special teams player his entire time in the NFL. He gets this opportunity in the AAF and he gets to be an every-down football player and play at his position, which is safety. So he was able to showcase his ability to play defense, which he hadn’t been able to do in the NFL.”
For Smith, the AAF was a risk that paid off.
“Absolutely it’s worth the risk for some guys if the ultimate goal is to play in the NFL and they have exhausted every other resource,” Callahan said. “On our end, we love that opportunity for players to have another platform to continue to pursue playing in the NFL.”
Agent David Canter also thinks there is a need for a developmental league. “We are desperate for a secondary developmental football league for NFL-quality football players,” he said.
Players going to the AAF knew there were risks involved with a startup venture, Canter said, but at the same time there were “very legitimate” football people who put their names behind it and players did not expect to have the rug pulled out from under them.
“The AAF is the literal double-edged sword,” Canter said. “It had a tremendous amount of very beneficial things, and it had a tremendous amount of very horrible negative things. … I had over a dozen guys [in the league], and my heart goes out to every one of them because that may be the last football they ever played.”
Defensive tackle Darius Hamilton was a five-star recruit out of high school but his career at Rutgers was cut short by injuries. Getting a shot with the AAF’s Salt Lake Stallions, he got to compile some film and is still hopeful of making it to the NFL. After it folded, the AAF did not pay Hamilton’s airfare home to New Jersey, but he did get paid to play football for eight weeks.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to play football,” he said. “I mean, if the question is would I do it all over again? The answer is absolutely.”
Some players might get that chance with the XFL. Luck spoke to SBJ in June at the XFL’s Los Angeles showcase, for which about 100 players came out in hopes of securing a job with the next spring football startup. He estimated that 25 percent of the players at the league’s eight showcases around the country played in the AAF.
The XFL will begin signing players after NFL clubs cut down their rosters.
The AAF paid everybody the same regardless of position, but Luck said the XFL will have three layers of compensation. The bulk of the players will make about $60,000 a season.
Players will be committed to the XFL after early October when the league has its draft, but after the season is over next spring, if a player gets an NFL call, he’s free to sign with a team, said Luck, a former NFL quarterback.
“We want the best players to play in our league,” he said. “If we force players to play for two years in our league without getting to go to the NFL, we won’t get the best players. … If they have an NFL opportunity, we would say, ‘Take advantage of it. Good luck. We’d love to see you do well, son.’”