This is the first in a two-part series previewing the Alliance of American Football.
While Sunday's Super Bowl officially ended the NFL season, the Alliance of American Football (AAF) is kicking off its inaugural weekend. But they'll be doing it without any Illinois FCS players.
Four former Illinois FCS players were among the final cuts for the league's 52-man rosters. There are no practice squads.
Center Jacob Judd (Western Illinois), defensive end Mack Weaver (Eastern Illinois), running back Marshaun Coprich (Illinois State) and linebacker Deondre Barnett (Southern Illinois) were all released when the final AAF rosters were announced last week.
"(I'm) looking into some other teams in the league or at Memphis [the team he was cut from] as well later in the season but have been talking to some CFL teams as well. Have a few different options just looking for the best one," Weaver told Prairie State Pigskin.
[Editor’s note: Weaver signed with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League Tuesday.]
The AAF is an eight-team league that exists to both complement the NFL during the offseason and showcase local, developing talent.
"There are a lot of really cool aspects to this new league," Judd told Prairie State Pigskin. "It’s really about opportunity for a lot of these guys. Whether you’re a vet trying to get back in the NFL or a rookie just trying to get a legit chance, this seems like a great place to be so far."
Judd, released by the Arizona Hotshots, previously spent time in Minnesota Vikings preseason camp. The 6-foot-3, 300-pounder likes what he sees in the AAF.
"It’s really competitive and I love that about it. My goal for this league is to make it back into the NFL. Don’t get me wrong this league is awesome and I wouldn’t mind being here for a while, but my ultimate goal is to be back in the NFL," Judd said. "Overall the AAF seems like a great complimentary league to the NFL, and I’m excited for the future of it."
Weaver, who began his collegiate career at Vanderbilt before transferring to Eastern Illinois, suited up for the Memphis Express.
Eastern Illinois graduate Brad Childress was slated to be the head coach of the Atlanta franchise. However, Childress left the job in January. The 56-year-old graduate of Aurora's Marmion Academy coached the NFL's Minnesota Vikings from 2006-2010.
More on the AAF
The AAF was founded by TV/film producer Charlie Eberson and Pro Football Hall of Famer Bill Polian, the former Buffalo, Carolina and Indianapolis general manager. The league begins its 10-game regular season this weekend and concludes with its championship contest in late April.
The AAF has franchises in Phoenix, Salt Lake, San Diego, San Antonio, Memphis, Orlando, Atlanta and Birmingham. It also has a TV deal with CBS, which will carry opening-night action and the championship game on its main network and weekly contests on CBS Sports Network.
Five AAF head coaches--Mike Martz (San Diego), Steve Spurrier (Orlando), Mike Riley (San Antonio), Dennis Erickson (Salt Lake) and Mike Singletary (Memphis) — have also been NFL head coaches.
AAF games won’t feature kickoffs as teams will begin on their own 25-yard line. And there’ll be no extra points, just two-point conversions.
According to numerous published reports, the standard AAF player contract offers players a base salary of $250,000 over three years with a comprehensive bonus system which will award financial compensation based on a variety of metrics such as performance, win, and fan engagement. Additionally, players who make final rosters will be offered post-secondary education assistance and health and wellness benefits.
What's the biggest difference between the AAF and college football?
"The consistency of talent," said the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Weaver. "In college, your team might have only a few good players and they're the starters. In pro ball, even many of the second team/backups have the potential to be stars on the team."
Judd said, "The amount of really good players I go against everyday. Every once in a while I would play guys in our conference who were really elite or the best player on their team, but not always. I was also fortunate to go against some really good players on our own team at WIU. Guys like Mick Nelson, Brett Taylor, Quentin Moon, Khalen Saunders and others were really good practice because those guys could definitely play at this level."
What impresses you about the AAF?
"The best aspects of the league are the educational emphasis and the time of year it takes place," Weaver said. "This league is helping people develop and improve the skills and technique need to make it to and dominate in the NFL. The time this season takes place is between the Super Bowl and NFL mini camp so athletes can take what they learn in this league and immediately apply it to their NFL career if they get called up."
Tomorrow: What will it take for the AAF to succeed?