March 24, 2020

O’Leary: Why we won’t see the XFL-to-CFL frenzy that some might predict

Adam Gagnon/

Before the borders were closed and when the sports world was still functioning, Shawn Burke was thinking about the XFL.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ senior director of personnel and co-manager of football operations was preparing for a trip to the States to scout XFL players as the league entered its sixth week of play. Then, of course, everything changed.

“I’m just doing some film work in my house,” Burke said.

The scouting that Burke would have been doing in the States is now taking place on a laptop screen and split between time with his wife and their almost two-month-old son. That’s a silver lining for Burke in this weird moment in time that we’re all in. He was on a scouting trip in January when his wife went into labour three weeks early and he missed their son’s birth.

» Upon Further Review: Hamilton Tiger-Cats
» O’Leary: XFL players available to sign with CFL teams
» Five takeaways from Orlondo Steinauer’s Q&A

Derek Dennis is one of a handful of players with CFL experience that is now a free agent after the XFL canceled its season (Arthur Ward/

“It’s still football and you can’t control the uncontrollable. All I’m trying to do is help and do my part,” he said.

“The good part of this is that I get to spend time with a newborn, but it’s different than being in the office, that’s for sure.”

With the XFL cancelling its season and its players now able to sign with CFL and NFL clubs, Burke doesn’t anticipate an influx of XFL players landing on CFL rosters. At least not immediately.

“I would guess that we won’t see many signings in our league at this point, because the players will continue to get paid by the XFL,” he said.

“If they do sign in our league now, their payment stops. So my guess is it’s tough to take the pay over no pay.

“My understanding is that their pay runs until the end of May. They’re done differently pay-wise than we do in our league. Our players, besides roster or signing bonuses, are paid on game cheques whereas (XFL players) are paid more like a normal job where it was bi-weekly, however they did it. Any win bonuses they were getting was added to their pay.”

The league’s negotiation list complicates things a little more. CFL teams had some players on their neg lists that landed in the XFL, so those players’ rights would be held by a CFL team already. Other players that have prior CFL experience and went to the XFL as free agents are up for grabs on the open market. Either way, they’ll all receive cheques until May 31, unless they sign with a new CFL or NFL club. In that case, they’d get their release from the XFL.

“My guess is there’s going to be a bunch of negotiations leading up to that May 31 date and then you’ll probably see a flurry (of signings) after that,” Burke said.

In that flurry, Burke thinks there would be a lot of signings that would be used to create competition in training camp.

“With our camp numbers going up, in terms of rookie camp, I think you could see an influx of guys with rookie status that played in the XFL come up here for a number of factors,” he said.

“First and foremost, they’ve played football recently. Second, you have recent film on them and they’re in game shape, so they haven’t been on the couch as long as someone else that’s been out.

“So I think you could see that, but I think some of the correlation is just because we’re going from 75 to 100 (roster spots in training camp). With with (off-season training activities) being eliminated of course…now you’ll see them at the rookie camp or training camp and then see if they can make an impression and make the team.”