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Oliver Luck defends XFL policy of blocking NFL interest

One of the problems (and far from the only one) for alternative football leagues is the tremendous drop-off in talent from what customers are used to seeing in the NFL.

That’s particularly evident at the quarterback position, and part of the reason the league has taken steps to protect their own.

Commissioner Oliver Luck told Thomas Bassinger of the Tampa Bay Times that the XFL is trying to take some lessons from the quick demise of the Alliance of American Football (which wasn’t just a football problem).

“If there’s one thing we learned from watching the Alliance it was that quarterback play is critical,” Luck said. “In the game of football today — whether it’s pro, college or even high school arguably — your quarterback play is determinative. So we made an effort to sign guys, some of whom played in the AAF but the vast majority didn’t.”

Luck cited Josh Johnson, who never played in the AAF because he was with Washington late last year. The Lions tried to sign him this season, but the XFL blocked the attempt.

“We said, ‘No, we’re keeping him. He ours. He signed a contract. He’s committed to us,’” Luck said. “Once a player signs a contract — once he passes his physical and signs a contract — then he’s under contract with us. We won’t release that player to the NFL until after our season. We need certainty. We can’t just have guys peeling off.

“This happened to Landry Jones. Ben Roethlisberger got hurt, and Landry had backed up Ben for years. First phone call was, ‘Can Landry come to the Steelers?’ ‘Nope, sorry. He’s ours. We signed him.’ It even happened with Phillip Walker, who’s now with the Houston Roughnecks. The same team, the Steelers, called and said, ‘We’d like to have Phillip for a week because we’re playing the Ravens and Phillip’s a little bit like Lamar Jackson. We’ll sign him to a one-week contract so we can get accustomed to that kind of quarterback.’ We said, ‘Thanks for the compliment, but we’re not going to let him go.’

“Once you’re under contract with the XFL, you’re under contract, regardless of position. We’re not trying to be a development league for the NFL. That’s not our raison d’être. Having said that, I hope that every one of the [Tampa Bay] Vipers players has a chance to go to the NFL after our season because that means we’ve done our job in terms of playing good football. Bust your butt, play hard, have a chance to get great game tape and you’ll get a shot in the NFL. We are a league of opportunity.”

Luck also shrugged off the possibility of some name-brand quarterbacks. Of Johnny Manziel, he said: “Johnny has his own history, and we have coaches from the CFL who have seen him close up.”

Of Colin Kaepernick, he said: “I think his salary demands are way out of our ballpark. He was never really a viable option.”

Whether the XFL can become or remain viable itself remains to be seen, but they seem dug in on not being poached by the NFL.