On Thursday, the XFL became the latest North American sports league to suspend or cancel operations due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the league announcing that it will resume business in 2021 after just five weeks of play. Due to the lengthy layoff, the XFL is reportedly giving its players the go-ahead to sign with NFL teams as free agents, should they attract the attention of the long-established rival's teams.
In a story published Friday, Bleacher Report cited Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network, who tweeted that the XFL players are expected to complete their exit physicals today. This, he said, could allow the rebooted football league's top stars, including quarterbacks Josh Johnson and P.J. Walker, to "land quickly" on NFL teams and suit up for its 2020 season later this year.
At the time the XFL's 2020 season was suspended, Walker -- the Houston Roughnecks signal-caller -- was the league's passing leader, throwing for 1,338 yards and 15 touchdowns, with his 104.4 QB rating good enough for second in the league. Johnson, who was one of multiple Washington Redskins quarterbacks to take over for the injured Alex Smith in the 2018 NFL season, suited up for the XFL's Los Angeles Wildcats, leading the league with a 106.3 QB rating and passing for 1,076 yards, 11 touchdowns, and just two interceptions.Pelissero also mentioned St. Louis Battlehawks quarterback Jordan Ta'amu, who could be among the XFL standouts most coveted in the 2020 NFL offseason. At the moment, free agency is still expected to kick off on March 18, but ongoing coronavirus concerns and the still-unsigned collective bargaining agreement between players and owners could force officials to move this start date back by some time.
According to a news release posted on the NFL website, XFL commissioner Oliver Luck informed Pelissero and NFL Network colleague Ian Rapoport that the upstart league's players will still receive the base pay and benefits for the 2020 campaign.
Despite the lack of updates regarding the start of NFL free agency, the league and its teams have already made a few moves as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, including canceling the spring owners' meeting that was supposed to take place at the end of March. Scouts have also been recalled from their trips and training facilities have been momentarily closed, in an effort to prevent COVID-19 — the disease caused by the coronavirus — from spreading. As pointed out by Bleacher Report, these factors might have an effect on the free-agent market once negotiations are allowed to begin with the legal tampering period at noon Eastern on Monday, March 16.