Cardale Jones will be back on the football field on Saturday, and so will two of his former Ohio State teammates, to play in the inaugural game of the new edition of the XFL.
Jones is the starting quarterback for the D.C. Defenders, whose roster also includes former Ohio State cornerback Doran Grant and defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle, who will host the Seattle Dragons in the opening game of the XFL season at 2 p.m. Saturday. The game, which is being played at Audi Field (the home of the MLS’ D.C. United) in Washington, D.C., will be televised on ABC.
For Jones, who spent time with the Los Angeles Chargers and Seattle Seahawks last season but played his only regular-season NFL game with the Buffalo Bills in 2016, it will be his first opportunity to lead a football team since 2015, when he started eight games for the Buckeyes.
Although he became an instant Ohio State legend when he quarterbacked the Buckeyes to victories in their final three games of the 2014 national championship season, he was never a full-season starter at Ohio State – while he began the 2015 season as the starter, J.T. Barrett replaced him in the lineup by the end of the year – and has struggled to stick on an NFL roster despite being selected in the fourth round of the 2016 draft.
In the XFL, though, Jones has the chance to re-emerge as a star. He’s being promoted as one of the marquee faces of the entire league, his upside among the league’s quarterbacks stands out because of the arm strength and big-play ability he showed at Ohio State and for the first time in nearly a decade, he’ll have the chance to truly get into a rhythm and show what he can do as the general of an offense all season long.
“I really haven’t played a full season of football, honestly, since my senior year of high school,” Jones said in a recent interview with ESPN. “The XFL and the D.C. Defenders gave me the opportunity to be a leader, be a face of a franchise and help lead this team to a championship.”
Grant and Sprinkle, who were also both members of Ohio State’s 2014 national championship team, will be playing together as teammates in an upstart spring football league for the second year in a row. Both former Buckeyes played for the Atlanta Legends last February and March in the short-lived Alliance of American Football, which lasted just eight games before the league folded.
Sprinkle, who had 22 tackles with five sacks in his eight games with the Legends, parlayed that opportunity into stints with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans last summer, but he hasn’t yet played in an NFL regular-season game since going unselected in the 2018 draft.
Grant, who had nine total tackles and three pass breakups in the AAF, hasn’t been on an NFL roster since he spent the 2018 preseason with the Chicago Bears. His only regular-season game action came as a rookie with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who selected him in the fourth round of the 2015 draft.
Considering the lack of success that the AAF and other similar upstart professional football leagues have had in recent years – the original XFL also lasted for just one season (2001) – the big question going into the launch of the reborn XFL is whether it will be financially viable enough to last for any sustained period of time.
XFL owner Vince McMahon, a multibillionaire who is also the chairman of WWE, is reportedly prepared to spend $500 million over the next three seasons to get the league off the ground, but the league will need to draw TV ratings and attendance that the AAF and the original XFL could not in order to become profitable.
Regardless of how long the league lasts, though, the XFL represents an opportunity for Jones, Grant, Sprinkle and more than 400 other athletes to keep their professional football careers alive with hopes of performing well enough to prove they deserve another shot in the NFL. A number of players from the AAF made successful returns to the NFL last season, and the XFL could open similar doors back to the NFL, though players will be contractually obligated to complete the XFL season before signing with an NFL team.
Going into the opening weekend of games, the Defenders – the only team in the league that currently has any Buckeyes on its roster – have the third-best odds (+450) to win the XFL title behind the Dallas Renegades (+350) and Tampa Bay Vipers (+400), according to Bovada.