TORONTO — Players under contract to XFL teams are free to sign CFL deals now but GMs Marcel Desjardins and Kyle Walters aren't expecting an exodus of talent north of the border.
The XFL has officially cancelled the remainder of its inaugural season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The league has allowed its players to sign with both NFL and CFL teams starting Monday.
However Desjardins, the Ottawa Redblacks GM, points out two factors why many XFL players are expected to take their time pondering their football futures.
"I think the guys that are the more-known commodities to our league are going to be guys who'd probably want some type of money up front," Desjdarins said. "I don't think anybody would be looking to do right now either based upon what they've already spent or just the current climate relative to when the season is going to start.
"And from an XFL players' standpoint, if they sign here they no longer get paid by the XFL. Right now they're continuing to get paid through end of May so there's no real incentive for them to sign."
Walters, the general manager of the Grey Cup-champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers, agrees with that.
"I don't think immediately," he said. "He (an XFL player) would have to be terminated from his XFL contract to allow his CFL deal to be registered.
"You can't imagine that would happen prior to May 31 with these players."
This year, CFL training camps are scheduled to open around mid-May. That would present XFL players with the dilemma of having to give up two weeks of pay in order to attend camps in Canada.
However, the novel coronavirus outbreak has put both the opening of CFL training camps and start of the 2020 regular season into question. Last week, commissioner Randy Ambrosie said the league and CFLPA are discussing all potential contingency plans.
"In every facet of the world there's uncertainty right now," Walters said. "That's just another piece to the puzzle."
Two XFL players expected to garner a lot of NFL attention are quarterback P.J. Walker and receiver Cam Phillips of the Houston Roughnecks (5-0). Walker was the league's passing leader (1,338 yards, 15 TDs and four interceptions) while Phillips finished as the top receiver (31 catches, 455 yards, nine touchdowns).
Houston's head coach was June Jones, the former Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach.
And there were reports Monday that Walker had agreed to a deal with the NFL's Carolina Panthers. That's not good news for Desjardins as Walker is on Ottawa's negotiation list, which gives the Redblacks exclusive CFL negotiating rights to the six-foot, 207-pound former Temple star.
Then again, Desjardins seemed almost resigned to the fact that Walker would get snapped up by an NFL team.
"I'd think somebody down there is going to sign him," he said. "So for him to be contemplating coming up here is probably not a scenario that would play itself out right now."
But with teams — in both the CFL and NFL — always looking for upgrades at the quarterback position, Walters said having more with pro experience to consider is always a bonus.
"Every league is looking for that position," Walters said. "It's very hard to evaluate quartebacks until you see them playing pro football.
"With a two-week training camp and only two exhibition games (in CFL) a lot of the young players don't get a chance to play until there are injuries. So it's nice that a new league and a bunch of teams got to play quarterbacks and more players got to be on a professional football field and be evaluated."
Generally the XFL's level of play was deemed uneven and the league's attendance trended downward after its opening weekend. But Walters was content with what he saw from the upstart league.
"The football seemed fine," he said. "It's like in every football league, you need to find an offensive line to protect the quarterback and your quarterback needs to be able to step in there and throw the ball.
"Those are the two biggest challenges for any football league: Finding good players to protect the quarterback and top quarterbacks."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2020.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had a misspelled name.