As we are all aware, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the world almost instantly. Unfortunately for the XFL and its restart into the sports universe, their first season was suspended due to concerns regarding large gatherings just like every other sports league around the world.
The XFL announced it had canceled the remainder of its schedule for 2020 and would resume in 2021. In the meantime, all of its players would be paid for the remainder of their contract and are now free to sign with any NFL or CFL teams after their exit physicals on Friday.
A memo was sent to all XFL players on Thursday evening which stated “all players who who receive a written request to negotiate, and/or sign, a contract with any professional team will be released from their contracts upon executing an XFL notice of termination.”
Last year when the AAF disbanded before their season had concluded for financial reasons, the Browns signed quarterback Garrett Gilbert and running back D’Ernest Johnson. Gilbert was that league’s leading passer in all categories. Both players made the final roster and were minor contributors throughout the season. Garrett did come in on certain instances in games where starter Baker Mayfield had to leave the field. If Mayfield had been injured and lost for the year, Gilbert would have become Cleveland’s starting quarterback.
Here are five XFL players the Browns should sign.
CB Deatrick Nichols – 5’, 10” 189 pounds
Nichols went undrafted after a stellar college career at South Florida where he was named Two Time First Team All-AAC. He was a three-year starter and was clocked at 4.5 in the 40. The Arizona Cardinals signed him in 2018 and he made their 53-man roster. Nichols played mainly on special teams before being cut, then resigned to the practice squad, then cut, and then resigned to the practice squad. At the conclusion of the 2019 training camp, he was cut on the final day.
With Houston, he had tremendous production and led the league in interceptions with three, had six pass defenses plus added a sack. He possesses inside to outside versatility and can instantly add as the nickel position. Nichols still has his speed and is a former track star. He is skilled in zones, an exceptional tackler and a ball hawk. Very physical and dominated the XFL landscape with his vicious hits.
TE Donald Parham – 6’, 8” 237 pounds
Kevin Stefanski’s offense requires quite a bit two tight end sets. David Njoku was injured for most of last year and now appears healthy. Demetrius Harris was cut, Pharaoh Brown was a non-factor, Stephen Carlson is raw and Ricky Seals-Jones is a world wonder one game and invisible the next four. So, signing (or drafting) a dependable tight end appears on the horizon.
For one, Parham is very tall with long arms and a terrific reach radius. A former basketball player, he has all the physical tools needed to be a viable option in the NFL. His blocking skills are adequate and will need some coaching, but his receiving abilities are outstanding. Parham is fearless going up for the ball even in traffic with the ability to high-point the catch. Just 22 years old, he had good body control and is excellent at yards-after-the-catch.
Parham is a sub-par blocker. He does not have the girth to sustain blocks so he loses control of his defender by not enough power although he does give good effort.
He went undrafted in 2019 to which the Detroit Lions signed him. Before training camp, he was waived and the Washington Redskins picked him up. Parham did not make the 53-man roster, but was cut and then signed to their practice squad and released a month later. In the XFL, he was the league’s third leading receiver with 24 catches for 307 yards and four touchdowns.
WR Cam Phillips – 6’, 0” 202 pounds
Phillips should become one of those gutter-to-glory stories coming out of the XFL. He went undrafted in 2018 after being named First Team All-ACC out of Virginia Tech. He signed a contract with the Buffalo Bills but was cut with the announcement of the 53-man roster. The next day he was signed to their practice squad. In October, he was bumped to the active roster but was cut a month later with one catch for nine yards in two games. The Bills cut him again and resigned him again to the practice squad. Before the 2019 training camp, Buffalo released him for good.
With Houston, Phillips shined. He led the league in every receiver category including receptions (31), yards (455), average (14.7) and touchdowns (9). That is just in five games. He consistently beat XFL defenders as evidenced by his eight-catch, 194 yards and three score output in Week 3. However, the knock on him coming out of college was whether he could hold up against NFL cornerbacks and safeties, and provide enough separation.
Phillips has great hands and is a possession receiver. He is 24 years old and would be perfect as a slot option in the Browns’ offense. He is also a very good downfield blocker and is the player you will see after practice catching more balls.
OT Storm Norton – 6’, 7” 317 pounds
Los Angeles Wildcats
The Browns are looking for offensive tackle help. Here is a guy to bring in. Norton played left tackle in the XFL and right tackle in college. He proved he deserves a shot at the NFL once again with his play in the XFL.
Norton was a two-year starter at Toledo and was named Two Time First Team All-MAC. He went undrafted in 2017 and signed with the Lions. He was subsequently cut three times, signed to the practice squad thrice, and was activated to the 53-man roster for one game. The Cardinals then signed him to their practice squad and cut him a month later. From there, Norton signed with the Minnesota Vikings and again was signed/cut three times with just as many practice squad appearances in 2018. The Vikings brought him back to training camp the following year but waived him on the final round of cuts.
Los Angeles took him with the first overall pick in the offensive lineman phase of the maiden XFL draft. He responded with a very strong year anchoring the left tackle spot. Norton has long arms and big hands and is able to wall his defender on passing downs to which he excels. Was the right tackle for Toledo when running back Kareem Hunt played there, so his versatility is a plus. He moves laterally very well and is very good at pulling.
His negatives are he is a bit sluggish off the initial snap and wants to push his defender away instead of actively controlling him. He will also need to set his stance quicker, but is very strong and has some real potential. He would provide the Browns with much needed depth if nothing else.
DT Bunmi Rotimi – 6’, 3” 273 pounds
New York Guardians
One area of need for backup players is the defensive tackle position. Rotimi could provide that. He is more suited for a 4-3 formation and is a gap clogging player. He netted 19 sacks in college and is explosive, but needs more speed in space. Rotimi has the disadvantage of size but makes up for it as a hard worker and the ability to shed blockers much bigger than himself.
Rotimi lacks the ability to become an anchor in the middle, but does not have the athleticism to move outside to defensive end. He would provide depth and would definitely become a backup which is currently what Cleveland is looking for.