The Rock's XFL Agrees to Deal with NFL to Innovate Game, Test Rule Changes for Safety

Mike Chiari@@mikechiariFeatured Columnist IVFebruary 21, 2022

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 13: Entertainer Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson attends the Super Bowl LVI between the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals at SoFi Stadium on February 13, 2022 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The XFL announced Monday that it has entered into a partnership agreement with the NFL that will see the XFL test out potential NFL rule changes and player safety measures.

According to ESPN's Kevin Seifert, former Buffalo Bills and current XFL President Russ Brandon said the following regarding the relationship between the leagues:

"People would ask, 'What are the opportunities to look at the game through a different lens from a player development standpoint? 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."

The XFL, which is owned by WWE legend and Hollywood star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital Partners, is set to relaunch in February 2023.

In what was a precursor to the announcement of the XFL-NFL partnership, The Rock appeared on the field at SoFi Stadium prior to Super Bowl LVI against the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals just over a week ago.

As he did so often during his time as a WWE Superstar, Johnson pumped up the crowd with a fiery and passionate speech.

While the XFL and NFL will be working together in certain areas moving forward, Garcia made it clear that there is no goal or intention to make the XFL a developmental league for the NFL.

Regarding the XFL possibly becoming a minor league system of sorts for the NFL like NFL Europe once was, 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."

The XFL had been in search of a strategic partnership since it was purchased by Johnson, Garcia and RedBird Capital Partners in 2020.

At one point, the XFL and CFL held discussions about working together in some way, but things were ultimately tabled, and no deal was reached.

Working with the NFL potentially puts the XFL in an advantageous position as far as spring football leagues are concerned.

The revived USFL is scheduled to begin play in April, and it has significant television deals with both Fox and NBC. The USFL is shaping up to be the XFL's biggest competition if it can make it beyond one season, but having some backing from the NFL could be what the XFL needs to establish itself as the preeminent spring league.

The XFL originally launched in 2001 under the ownership of WWE chairman Vince McMahon. The league folded after one season, but McMahon brought it back in 2020.

While the revived XFL had TV deals with Fox and ABC and received some positive reviews, it folded before the 2020 season could be completed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With Johnson and Co. purchasing the league, however, another chapter in the unique story of the XFL will be written next year.