There will be no pot of gold at the end of the XFL rainbow, not for the players unemployed in the wake of the league's decision to fold last week and not for NFL teams waiting to pick the bones of the eight expired clubs. By Monday, 45 XFL players had signed with the NFL, and another 30 to 35 will probably catch on before camps open in July. "But I would be surprised if any more than five starters come from that league," says one NFL scout assigned to mine the XFL for prospects. "Mostly it'll be players fighting for backup and special teams jobs."
A few of the better XFLers with NFL pedigrees are hurt by the same factor that's keeping some prominent free agents out of work: the league's $477,000 minimum salary for players with at least five years on NFL rosters. (The absolute minimum is $209,000.) Here are the consensus picks among three NFL pro personnel men on the best the XFL had to offer.
1. John Avery, running back-kick returner, Chicago Enforcers. Signed by Dallas, the speedy Avery is expected to get the chance he never had in NFL stops with the Broncos and the Dolphins. He should return lacks and be a situational back behind the aging Emmitt Smith.
2. Jose Cortez, placekicker, Los Angeles Xtreme. Easily the best long-range kicker in the XFL (at Oregon State he had three 50-plus-yard field goals in one game), the native of El Salvador has been signed by the 49ers and should become their No. 1 kicker.
3. Kelvin Kinney, defensive end, Las Vegas Outlaws. At 6'7" and 270 pounds, this former Redskin could be an ideal third-down quarterback hunter—if someone would sign him. He's being hurt by a $389,000 minimum tag for three-year NFL vets but should hook up with a team when purse strings loosen in mid-June.
4. Tommy Maddox, quarterback, Los Angeles Xtreme. So what does Maddox have now that he never had in a bad NFL career? The wisdom of experience, apparently. Scatter-armed in his stints with the Broncos, Rams and Giants, Maddox was a 57% passer for the XFL champs and the league's MVP. "He finally looks like a good decision-maker," says one NFL scout. Though subject to the $477,000 minimum, he should get a shot somewhere.
5. Joe Tuipala, linebacker, Las Vegas Outlaws. An instinctive 6'1", 240-pounder who signed with the Jaguars, he has a good chance of making it as a backup linebacker and special teams kamikaze. The former Saint reminds some scouts of Patriots special teams ace Larry Izzo.
What of the most famous XFLer, Las Vegas running back Rod Smart, a.k.a. He Hate Me? NFL hate him, apparently. "Not quick enough," says one scout of the 5'9", 185-pound Smart, "and too small."