Two members of the Philadelphia Stars 2022 team parlayed their time in the USFL into a full-time role with an NFL team this fall. The Washington Commanders added Stars left tackle Alex Akingbulu while the Detroit Lions signed Stars returner and wide receiver Maurice Alexander Jr. to their practice squad.
Alexander could see action as soon as week one of the regular season if the Lions opt to elevate Alexander as their primary kick returner. Craig Reynolds appears to be the team’s top option at kick returner on their 53-man roster, but practice squad players Alexander, Tom Kennedy, and Justin Jackson could get looks in the regular season.
Alexander could also get elevated if Lions punt returner Kalif Raymond or one of their receivers get hurt following week one. The young receiver didn’t see much usage on offense in the preseason, but the Lions could have him more involved in offense on the scout team. Alexander may also be used some as a scout team quarterback were Detroit to play against a team with a mobile quarterback.
Akingbulu likely won’t see the field in 2022 but could be called up were the Commanders to have a slew of injuries at offensive tackle.
NFL practice squad players make $11,500 per week during the NFL’s 17-game season, a significant raise from the $4,500 per week that players made during the USFL 10-game regular season. More importantly, players on the practice squad are within reach of becoming regular NFL contributors.
The Commanders opted to not sign cornerback Channing Stribling to their practice squad while the Packers also left running back Dexter Williams off their practice squad after both ex-Stars survived the all but the final cutdown to 53-men.
Instead of keeping Stribling around, Washington added two young cornerbacks off waivers to their 53-man roster and lowered holdovers like Troy Apke, Danny Johnson, and Corn Elder to the practice squad.
The Packers kept only two running backs on their 53-man roster and had two others make their practice squad. At some point Kylin Hill will return from the PUP list and be the team’s third running back. Were a Packers running back to get injured before Hill makes his return, it’s possible that Green Bay gives Dexter Williams a look on their practice squad.
As of now, Dallas Cowboys return man KaVontae Turpin is the only USFL player on an NFL 53-man roster. Former Houston Gamblers’ safety Micah Abernathy originally made the Packers’ 53-man roster but was later cut and re-signed to Green Bay’s practice squad.
In 2019 there were eight AAF players who made NFL active rosters at the start of the season and in 2020 there were four XFL players who made NFL rosters at the start of the season. While the USFL had less players on 53-man rosters than other spring football attempts, the league seemed comparable in numbers of practice squad players on NFL teams to the AAF and XFL.
Last year USFL players made $4,500 per week over ten weeks and the two week playoffs. Additionally, players were required to pay for their own housing/hotel at the conclusion of training camp. The Sportico article also revealed that the XFL was planning on offering higher player compensation and elevated quarterback pay.
While everyone loves player pay and we can all agree that players deserve to be paid more than what was paid in the 2022 season, FOX Sports also must walk a fine line due to the instability that alternative football leagues have had financially. One advantage of the 2022 USFL setup were the smaller player costs than leagues like the AAF and XFL had in previous years.
Still, I expect some sort of concessions from the USFL to ensure that play continues and the players are happy. The Arena Football League was notorious for having strife between the league and the players association so hopefully FOX Sports and the USFL’s union are able to find common ground for 2023 and years to come.
LaDarius Wiley a Future Philadelphia Stars Coach?
Brevard College is a Division III school located in beautiful Western North Carolina with a student population of around 800 and around 100 staff. Philadelphia Stars safety LaDarius Wiley is spending this fall as Brevard’s defensive backs coach, joining Stars defensive backs/special teams coach Martin Bayless who serves as Brevard’s General Manager/Senior Assistant Defense and Special Teams Coordinator/Player Development.
The head coach of Brevard is Pittsburgh Maulers tight ends coach Bill Khayat, so it’s not surprising to see Maulers’ running back Garrett Groshek listed as Brevard’s running backs coach. The Maulers’ offensive coordinator, John Tomlinson, was the passing game coordinator under Khayat in 2020.
Bayless and Khayat coached together under Dennis Green with the UFL’s Sacramento Mountain Lions and the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. Garrett Kruczek, the son of former Mountain Lions’ offensive coordinator Mike Kruczek, is now at Brevard as the team’s quarterbacks coach while Brevard assistant head coach Everett Lindsay coached under Green alongside Khayat and Bayless with the Arizona Carinals.
Time will tell if Bayless, Bellefeuille, Miller, and Wiley be at Philadelphia’s rumored October offseason training activities.
USFL Exec Floats Idea of NFL Pathway Program Partnering with USFL
Morris also revealed that he personally hopes that the NFL Player Pathway program would partner with the NFL to allow international players to play in USFL games.
“The NFL has this international program where they have one international player on each roster. If we could find a way to get those guys (with the USFL), because all they’re going to do is be on a (NFL) practice squad, if we could find a way to get those guys in our leagues for 10 games,” Houston Gamblers Director of Player Personnel Robert Morris mused on The USFL Podcast.
Through the NFL Player Pathway program, NFL teams can carry a program participant on their practice squad without having the player count against the maximum allotted practice squad spots.