XFL to be 'petri dish' for football innovation, prospect development as part of partnership agreement with NFL

The NFL and XFL have reached a partnership agreement that will focus on creating innovation programs and protecting the health of players, the XFL announced Monday.

XFL officials made clear that the collaboration will not include player sharing for developmental purposes, but the alignment is notable given the growing number of alternative leagues in the football landscape.

The XFL is scheduled to resume play in February 2023 under new owners Dany Garcia, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and RedBird Capital Partners. News of the agreement comes as a revived USFL works toward its launch April. The deal is nonexclusive and does not prevent either league from working with others moving forward.

The NFL-XFL agreement will give the NFL a "petri dish" to experiment with proposed rules, test new equipment and develop prospective officials and coaches, XFL president Russ Brandon told ESPN.

A Buffalo Bills executive for two decades, Brandon said NFL officials routinely discussed the need for such an outlet after NFL Europe shuttered in 2007.

"People would ask, 'What are the opportunities to look at the game through a different lens from a player development standpoint?'" Brandon told ESPN. "'How can you be an incubator or an accelerant in many different verticals, from officiating to rules innovations to playing surfaces, to player development?' You can go on and on.

"Any opportunity that the NFL has to advance the game of football, I think they've always been open to, and we've had some really good dialogue, led by our ownership group."

Garcia told ESPN that the partnership with the NFL isn't intended to put the XFL "in position [as] a developmental league." In both of its previous incarnations under former owner Vince McMahon, in 2000 and 2020, the XFL could not use players under contract with NFL teams. The XFL suspended operations and declared bankruptcy in April 2020, leading McMahon to sell.

Asked whether the XFL could one day evolve into a position to use allocated NFL players or construct another kind of sharing agreement, as occurred in NFL Europe, Garcia said: "That's a no. We are a spring league. We will play at the highest level in the spring. There is not the anticipation of any player sharing that changes the dynamic. That's not how we're executing our vision."

Garcia, Johnson and Gerry Cardinale of RedBird Capital Partners met last fall with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent to begin discussing the partnership. Johnson appeared on the field of Super Bowl LVI, announcing the impending kickoff to fans and the television audience.

The XFL built its 2020 version as a reimagined brand of football and has plans to continue that approach, making the XFL what Garcia said would be a "natural" partner for the NFL.

"One of the things we made clear starting off is that we were going to take a stewardship position on the game and the game of football, expanding it and being impactful to the industry," Garcia said. "So I would say the field sees us as what we are, which is deeply leaning into innovation, and we were confident that having important conversations and articulating what we wanted to accomplish would be advantageous to anyone sitting in the room with us. We're excited about that. Our relationships with football and the NFL are deep and long-standing, so it was a natural process."

In a statement released by the XFL, Vincent said: "The XFL has shown us that innovation is one of its core principles. We are hopeful that this relationship will support further development and improvements in the game of football at all levels."

The XFL's football staff was a regular presence at recent all-star college bowl games. Brandon said the league is working on plans for regional combines this fall, where it will test new approaches to evaluating players, with an eye toward opening training camps by January 2023.