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With Spring In Their Step, AAF Prepares For February Debut

In case you didn’t hear the news, Brad Childress has resigned as coach of the Atlanta Legends of the Alliance of American Football.

We suspect you might have a few questions about this. Why are we concerned about Brad Childress, who are the Atlanta Legends and what is the Alliance of American Football?

Bill Polian

Michael Adamucci / Getty

This is not as much about Childress, who coached the Vikings from 2006-10, as it is about the AAF, as its being called. There is a new professional football league preparing for its debut in February.

The formation of the league was announced in March, the creation of co-founders Charlie Ebersol, the son of Dick Ebersol, the former chairman of NBC Sports, and Bill Polian, the former general manager of the Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers and vice chairman of the Indianapolis Colts.

“If it’s good football, it will sell itself,” said Polian in August.

The AAF is comprised of eight teams – Arizona Hotshots, Atlanta Legends, Birmingham Iron, Memphis Express, Orlando Apollos, Salt Lake Stallions, San Antonio Commanders and San Diego Fleet – who will play a 10-game schedule and its games will be aired on CBS and CBS Sports Network.

Aside from Polian, there are a number of former NFL players attaching their names – and likely reputations – to this upstart league. For instance, Hines Ward, the former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver, is the AAF’s player relations executive. Former Steelers safety Troy Polamalu is its head of player relations.

A few months ago, Ward explained the philosophy of the league on the CBS Sports website.

“Our goal is just to be complementary,” said Ward. “With our league, it’s going to put out a better product for the NFL. We’re giving them extra eyes and extra film.”

Every player in the league will have one-year contracts and be allowed to sign with NFL teams after the AAF season ends in April.

Most of the league coaches all have strong pro football pedigrees. Rick Neuheisel (Arizona), Tim Lewis (Birmingham), Mike Singletary (Memphis), Steve Spurrier (Orlando), Dennis Erickson (Salt Lake), Mike Martz (San Diego) and Mike Riley (San Antonio).

The games will be played with some rule adaptations the NFL has been discussing.

There will no kickoffs. Possessions will start at the 25-yard line after scores and at the beginning of each half. In addition, the team that scores a TD will get the ball right back at its 35 in a fourth-and-10 situation. There also will be on extra points and a 30-second play clock.

“We want to give our league back to the players,” said Ward. “We want them to really have a voice in their cities.”

To encourage interest, the league is attempting to stock team rosters with as many local players as possible, citing Atlanta’s commitment to recruit players from the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech.

The league is built on three philosophical platforms. It wants to give its players a place to begin or rebuild NFL careers. It wants to service fans who wish to watch pro football all year. Most of all, it wants to develop into a feeder system for the NFL, much like the AHL is to the NHL, the Minor Leagues are the Major Leagues and the G League is to the NBA.

“Our objective is to take some of those people who can’t quite make it and make them into quality NFL players,” said Polian.

What seems to make this idea somewhat more problematic (and we’re being kind) is that the XFL, another in the long list of pro football knockoffs that includes the WFL (1974-75) and USFL (1983-85), is set to return in 2020, almost 20 years after its one-year debut.

“Training camp (NFL) is really not enough time to evaluate players,” said Ward. “And the last preseason game comes down to two or three roster spots Then for the players (who don’t make teams), what do you do from now until next year, if you don’t get another opportunity.”

In terms of player procurement, the league held a four-round quarterback draft in late November. The players first had to agree to play in the AAF before they could be selected. The QBs were allocated to the team closest to their last college, NFL or Canadian Football League team prior to the draft.

When it came time to pick, each team could protect a QB already allocated to them or draft another.

The first four “protected” were Josh Johnson (San Diego), Aaron Murray (Atlanta), Troy Cook (Memphis) and Dustin Vaughn (San Antonio).

Johnson eventually signed with the Washington Redskins on Dec. 5 after season-ending injuries to Alex Smith and Colt McCoy. Johnson started the final three games, throwing for 590 yards and three TDs. He said on the day he signed in Washington tht he still wanted to play for San Diego.

Murray played for Georgia, Cook for UT-Martin and Vaughn was a former Dallas Cowboys draft pick, which would account for their team assignments.

Matt Simms, who played for the New York Jets, Bills and Atlanta Falcons, and Christian Hackenberg, the Jets second-round pick in 2016, were second-round selections of Atlanta and Memphis, respectively.

Those cut from NFL rosters the previous season will take up the majority of roster space. The Alliance is offering three-year, $250,000 deals that have out clauses if they can get another shot at an NFL team. And there’s a lot of bonus money for those interested in helping the league market itself.

 

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