For spring pro football leagues, their existence enables players to continue their dream of making it onto a final roster in the NFL, which pays the most, or the Canadian Football League (CFL), which offers the second highest salary.
The United States Football League (USFL) had a banner season last year which culminated with their playoffs in Canton, Ohio. The Birmingham Stallions faced off with the Philadelphia Stars in the championship game with the Stallions coming out on top 33-30 in a very entertaining contest.
Last season was the re-boot of the league that had been in operation from 1983-1985. But unlike its predecessors, this time around all clubs are league-owned instead of having individual owners. All regular season games were held in a very large bubble in Birmingham, Alabama.
Eight teams will again comprise the league this year with a broadcasting deal with FOX Sports. Other games are being telecast on ABC, FS1, USA, and streaming on Peacock. In addition, the league’s international broadcast schedule will bring the USFL to 14 countries.
The opening weekend of games begins on Saturday with the Stars against the Memphis Showboats at 4:30 pm (Eastern), and the New Jersey Generals going against defending league champs Birmingham at 7:30 pm (Eastern). But contests are on FOX. Two more games are scheduled for Sunday.
For this season, four different “hubs” have been arranged for home games: Birmingham (New Orleans, Birmingham), metro Detroit (Michigan, Philadelphia), Memphis (Houston, Memphis), and Canton (New Jersey, Pittsburgh). The Showboats replaced last season’s Tampa Bay Bandits.
At the conclusion of the 2022 season, 180 USFL players were invited to an NFL tryout session of which 69 were signed to a training camp contract. The Cleveland Browns inked two former players: the USFL’s Defensive Player of the Year DE Chris Odom (Houston) and WR Derrick Dillion (Tampa Bay). Odom was having a decent training camp when he tore his ACL in August which placed him on season-ending IR. Dillion was released on the second to last cutdown day.
When the 2022 NFL season was finished, 13 former USFL players remained on an NFL roster.
Ticket prices for the USFL this year begin at $10 with season ticket packages a real savings opening at $25/$30 a game which will include games for both teams located in that hub.
USFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Daryl Johnston, who once made a comfortable living blocking for Emmitt Smith, stated this:
“The USFL is the best value in professional sports. We know how important our USFL Football Family is and we know our fans feel the same way about their families. That’s why it’s so important for the USFL to make it affordable for families and friends to be able to enjoy our exciting games together in a fun atmosphere at any, and all of our four USFL host stadiums.”
Amazingly, Club season tickets are just $100. To visit the USFL’s website, here is the access:
Numerous former Browns are dotted among USFL teams. Here’s the list:
WR Davion Davis
During the 2021 training camp, Davis lit it up in the Browns’ preseason games. There were rumblings that perhaps he could stick and man the WR4 position. Originally undrafted in 2019, the Minnesota Vikings signed him to their practice squad (PS,) and actually was brought up and active for two games. He then found the PS his home.
Cleveland signed him the following summer but began the season on a two-game substance-abuse suspension. He spent 2021 on the PS. The following season the Houston Texans signed him and thought highly of his talents. In the end, he was injured and/or a PS member. The Houston Roughnecks of the XFL inked him, but cut him very early in their talent process.
DE Joe Jackson
The former Class 5-A High School Male Athlete of the Year in Florida, Jackson was almost a 53-man roster member for Cleveland and was promoted several times. The Dallas Cowboys had drafted him in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL draft but only played in five games with 72 defensive snaps. He was then waived on the final cutdown day of the following training camp.
Cleveland claimed him and in 2020 he played in three games and made five tackles. The next season he was on the PS/active roster/released/PS several times. He then signed with the Kansas City Chiefs and Carolina Panthers before Birmingham picked him up.
ILB Scooby Wright
If you watched the USFL last season, Wright was everywhere on the highlight reels. He was drafted by Cleveland in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL draft after a stellar college career at Arizona in which he was named (all in 2014) Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, the Bednarik Award winner, Nagurski Trophy winner, Lombardi Award winner, Jack Lambert Trophy award winner, plus was First Team All Pac-12, and named unanimous All-American. He then became injured in his junior year and only played three games which hurt his draft status.
With the Browns, he signed a four-year deal worth $2.401 million but was a final cutdown release. The next day, Cleveland signed him to the PS. In December, the Arizona Cardinals plucked him from the PS to their active roster where he played in 10 games over the next two seasons with just seven tackles. He was mainly a PS member but was brought up occasionally and then sent back repeatedly.
In 2018 Wright played for Arizona in the AAF before that league shutdown prematurely. He signed with the New England Patriots where he was on their PS. When the XFL began in 2020, Wright was selected by the DC Defenders and had 17 tackles in four games before the pandemic wiped out their season. Birmingham then drafted him and he had a pick-six in the USFL championship game.
CB Donnie Lewis
Lewis was drafted by Cleveland in the seventh round of the 2019 NFL draft out of Tulane. He had a decent training camp and was a final cutdown release. He spent most of 2019 on the Browns PS and the following camp he was again a final cutdown waiver athlete. The Cincinnati Bengals picked him for their PS. In 2022 the Denver Broncos gave him a shot, but he became injured and found the IR list before being released on their final cutdown.
CB Bryan Mills
After going undrafted in 2021, Mills signed with the Seattle Seahawks and was released early in the cutdown period. The New Orleans Saints picked him up, but was a final cutdown transaction. Cleveland then signed him where he spent the majority of the year on the PS before being released in December. That’s when Minnesota nabbed him where he was elevated for their Week 18 game and played without any stats.
OT Avery Gennesy
The 2018 season is the one where the Browns traded for Jarvis Landry and Damarious Randall and traded away QB Kevin Hogan. Gennesy had a stellar career at Texas A&M where he was a two-year starter at left tackle. Gennesy has never played in an NFL game, although he has spent time with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Browns and the Broncos. He was then on Houston’s XFL roster in 2020 before the pandemic shortened their season which then parlayed a short stint with the Tennessee Titans who had hoped to play him at guard but later released him.
Head Coach Todd Haley
There are those who felt Haley should have stayed and head coach Hue Jackson should have been shown the door, but that didn’t happen. After only playing a partial season in 2018, Haley was fired along with Jackson. Cleveland went 2-5-1 under Haley.
OC Bob Saunders
Saunders has been a coach in pro football since 2002. He was hired as a coaching intern with Cleveland in 2015 after a coaching stint with the Virginia Destroyers of the United Football League. From there he was promoted to assistant WR coach/Offensive quality control. When Jackson was fired in 2018, so was Saunders. Since working with the Browns, he has coached in the XFL plus two teams in the USFL.
WR Ishmael Hyman
After being undrafted in the 2018 NFL draft, he was not signed to an NFL camp. He then was drafted in the AAF and played for the Orlando Apollos before that league folded midstream. The Browns signed him along with RB D’Ernest Johnson. Hyman was released on the final cutdown. He was placed on the PS of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was later promoted to their roster for one game where he made one catch for three yards. He was then released and signed back to their PS. Carolina picked him up where he was a PS member but was out of football all of 2022.
TE Kyle Markway
After a good college career at South Carolina, Markway was undrafted in 2020. He was signed by the New York Football Giants who cut him early. The Pittsburgh Steelers picked him up but was released two weeks later.
Cleveland then signed him to the PS where he lasted a month before being waived, then re-signed to the PS. He was elevated to the roster in January prior to the Browns’ playoff game against the Chiefs but did achieve any stats. Markway was then signed/released by the Browns, Los Angeles Rams, Browns again, and Rams once more. With his time with LA the second time, he had enough playing time to qualify for a ring as the Rams won the Super Bowl.
He was then drafted by Birmingham of the USFL who then traded him to Michigan.
New Jersey Generals
QB Kyle Lauletta
Originally a fourth-round pick of the Giants in 2018 out of Richmond where he tossed 73 touchdowns and passed for over 10,000 yards, Lauletta has bounced around quite a bit. He has had stints with the Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons, Jaguars, and signed by the Browns in 2020 and had a very good camp in 2021 before being released on the final cutdown.
Cleveland later claimed him off the Jaguars PS in 2021 as the third QB, but was released a month later. Lauletta was selected in the first round with the seventh overall pick by the Pittsburgh Maulers of the USFL in 2022 but was later released.
LB D’Juan Hines
An undrafted free agent in 2018, Hines was signed by the Chargers who then released him on the final cutdown then placed him on their PS. Cleveland claimed him three weeks later where he played in 13 games to assist their special teams. He made four tackles. Hines was waived the following spring. The Chiefs signed him, but was a final cutdown transaction. He then played for the New York Guardians of the XFL and the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks.
New Orleans Breakers
TE E.J. Bibbs
Bibbs was a Mackey Award finalist and named First Team All Big-12 his final college season. Despite the accolades, he went undrafted in 2015 and inked a Browns contract. He made the final 53-man roster and appeared in seven games with two targets and one catch for seven yards. Bibbs was a final cutdown release the following camp but was signed to the PS. During the 2016 season Cleveland released him and he spent time with Jacksonville and Washington either on the PS or on IR. He spent the next season with the New York Guardians of the XFL before their pandemic suspension.
Head Coach John DeFilippo
The son of a college athletic director, DeFilippo came to Cleveland in 2015 as the OC under head coach Mike Pettine. He had been the Oakland Raiders’ QB coach for the previous three seasons and had worked with Pettine while in New York with the Jets. With the Browns, DeFilippo had replaced OC Kyle Shanahan who had a disagreement regarding QB Johnny Manziel. Of course Shanahan would go on to build the San Francisco 49ers into a very strong Super Bowl contender.
WR Corey Coleman
Every Browns fan remembers when Coleman was taken in Round 1 of the 2016 NFL draft. He was looked at as the savior in the receiver room. He had a stellar career at Baylor where he had 3,009 receiving yards, 18.4 yards per reception with 33 touchdowns in just three seasons. Coleman had just won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best receiver coupled with a 40 time of 4.39 he was viewed as a “can’t miss” prospect.
Coleman was paired with the sensational Josh Gordon. The problems began in training camp with a minor hamstring issue. Then before Week 3, he broke his hand during practice. That put him out six weeks. At the conclusion of his rookie campaign, he had just 33 receptions for 413 yards and a mere three TDs.
In the Week 2 game against the Baltimore Ravens the following season, he broke the same hand again. This time it required surgery which placed him on IR and out for eight weeks. He was activated late in the year. With an 0-15-0 record, it was Coleman which dropped the pass which sealed the winless season. His stats for the year was 23 receptions for 305 yards and two scores.
The next training camp Coleman was infuriated that he was regulated to the second team and demanded a trade. The Browns then sent him to the Buffalo Bills for a seventh round pick. One month later, the Bills released him. The Patriots signed him, then cut him a week later, then signed him to their PS before releasing him a month later.
The Giants signed Coleman to their PS and were later promoted to the roster where he played in eight games with five receptions for 71 yards. In training camp of 2019, he suffered a torn ACL. He was then signed/released from the PS of the Giants and later the Chiefs.
Now with Philadelphia in the USFL, Coleman has a 12.7% chance of injury per game.
CB Channing Stribling
Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017, Stribling was waived on the final cutdown date after a decent training camp. The Browns then inked him to their PS but released him three weeks later. He was then signed/released from the PS of the Indianapolis Colts (twice), 49ers, Los Angeles Chargers, Washington, plus the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (twice) of the CFL.
Stribling also played for the Memphis Express of the AAF, the XFL’s Seattle Dragons, USFL Philadelphia Stars (twice), and was drafted by the St. Louis Battlehawks of the XFL, but chose to re-sign with the Stars.
Head coach Ray Horton
Horton was employed by Cleveland as the DC with two different coaching regimes: in 2013 under head coach Rob Chudzinski which went 4-12-0, and again in 2016 under head coach Hue Jackson which finished 1-15-0.