The Alliance of American Football (AAF) suspended all football operations last week due to several financial issues, and hundreds of players were suddenly left unemployed, possibly having played their last snap of professional football.
Each team severed around 53 player contracts worth $250,000 each over three years when it folded after just eight weeks into its inaugural season. While most of these players don’t have a chance of sniffing an NFL roster, a handful of standout players have already signed or have at least generated interest within the NFL.
As of Monday, 18 former AAF players have signed with NFL teams since the AAF tweeted on April 4 that “effective immediately, all AAF players are authorized to sign with NFL Clubs.”
The Carolina Panthers have signed four players in Rashad Ross of the Arizona Hotshots, Parker Collins of the Atlanta Legends, and Brandon Greene and Kitt O’Brien of the Birmingham Iron. The Memphis Express have yet to have a player join a team, but that should change soon.
Former Ole Miss linebacker DeMarquis Gates was one of the few bright spots for the Express, who went 2-6 in the short season. He led the league in tackles after eight weeks and impressed in every game he played.
Gates led the Rebels in tackling for three straight years and started all 12 games during his senior season at Ole Miss in 2017. He led the SEC in solo tackles with 70 and is the first Ole Miss defender to get 100 total tackles since Patrick Willis in 2006.
After leaving Ole Miss, Gates went undrafted and tried out for the San Francisco 49ers. He eventually ended up with the Cleveland Browns, where he was cut during OTAs after less than a month.
“I feel like it gave me a little bit more exposure, some more film and time to work on some things that were missing in the past,” Gates said.
Gates also mentioned that although he has not joined a team, several clubs have reached out to him expressing interest after his impressive performance in the AAF.
The exodus of players could end up being similar to what happened when the infamous XFL folded after one season in 2001. The XFL had more 40 players get to the league, seven of which eventually won a Super Bowl. One of the most notable XFL alumni is quarterback Tommy Maddox, who was the XFL most valuable player before winning the starting spot for the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was a part of the Super Bowl XL team.
Rod Smart, famous for having the phrase “He Hate Me” printed on the back of his jersey in the XFL, played in Super Bowl XXXVIII with the Carolina Panthers. Steve Gleason also played in the XFL before going on to make one of the biggest plays in New Orleans Saints history when he blocked an Atlanta Falcons punt that was recovered for a touchdown. It was the first score in the Superdome since Hurricane Katrina.
It would not be surprising to see the same numbers come from the AAF as there was a surplus of young talent in the league. The issue with the AAF was not the quality of football, which makes this failure even more puzzling considering the AAF was looking to work with the NFL rather than as a competitor like the XFL.
“I can’t say where the money is because I’m not the one controlling the purse strings at this point,” former team president of the Memphis Express Kosha Irby told reporters.
The AAF was reportedly working on a deal with the NFL that would allow the league access to NFL practice squad players, but the red tape of the deal proved to be too thick, resulting in the suspension of all operations.
Shortly after, the official AAF website was taken down and the Alliance tweeted a statement.
Newly unemployed players will continue to look for teams to sign them until the summer when training camps begin, as teams are allowed to bring in 93 players to the roster.