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Offensive lineman Derek Dennis has no regrets about his XFL stint

Derek Dennis had a plan. It changed. Then it changed again.

Then COVID-19 changed everything.

The 31-year-old offensive lineman, who has played 72 games in the Canadian Football League, wanted to re-sign in Calgary, where his career began in 2015.

“I wanted to retire a Stampeder, but things just didn’t work out,” he said Monday.

The 6-foot-3, 350-pounder was the Canadian Football League’s most outstanding offensive lineman in 2016, and parlayed that performance into a lucrative free agent offer from Saskatchewan in 2017, when he made a reported $180,000. That stint was a short one and he rejoined the Stamps in 2018, establishing himself as one of the CFL’s premier left tackles over the past two years.

But his deal with the Stamps ran out in February and the offer to re-up didn’t come from Calgary GM John Hufnagel.

So the plan changed.

For the first time in league history, a week-long negotiating window allowed all CFL teams to speak to impending free agents. Dennis was listed on the website as one of the top 30 available players. At No. 15, he was the second highest-ranked offensive lineman behind Sean McEwen, who wound up signing in Calgary.

The interest wasn’t there for Dennis.

“I think I got priced out,” he said. “A lot of teams felt they didn’t have the money to even offer me something decent, and they figured I wouldn’t even take it, so I didn’t get any offers to begin with. A lot of teams were telling me they weren’t going to invest money in the O line.”

So the plan changed again.

“The XFL was really kind of a Plan C for me. I just went that route after the free agency window and I wasn’t getting a lot of feelers from teams.”

Dennis signed with the XFL’s New York Guardians. Born and raised in Queens, he could not resist a shot at playing pro for a hometown team, even if it wasn’t the Jets or the Giants of the National Football League. Because maybe, just maybe, the XFL was a more likely route back to the bigs.

“At a certain point, guys were going to be able to go and sign deals with other leagues. They didn’t discourage it at all. Now they’re giving guys the opportunity to do it earlier. You were tied to the XFL until the season was finished. So it’s pretty much exactly what they said they were going to do, just a little earlier because everything is getting cancelled due to (COVID-19).”

The XFL suspended the season on March 12, halfway through its planned 10-game campaign, but league officials vowed to return in 2021. Dennis played in just one game. The league said all players will receive their remaining base pay and are free to sign with CFL or NFL teams upon proof of a valid contract offer.

“That was my whole plan anyways, do the XFL, get some film, get a chance to play back home and have all my friends and family there to see me play, and possibly get another opportunity with the NFL,” said Dennis.

He went undrafted in 2012, but spent some time with Miami, New England, Chicago and Carolina, before heading to the Arena Football League and then the CFL.

And now he waits, wondering when he will play again.

“I’m just waiting for any opportunity that presents itself, to be honest. I haven’t really heard from CFL teams. I mean, I have been in contact with some coaches that I have some history with. But I’m still going to have to wait, regardless, because the CFL landscape is pretty much decided for the time being.

“I think I probably won’t hear anything from a CFL team until training camp or maybe early season. That’s pretty much what my mindset was anyway going into this process of trying to do both seasons, wait until training camps get going and maybe some injuries happen, or maybe certain guys don’t pan out.

“My personal opinion is I’ll probably be back in the CFL before Canada Day but you never know what’s going to happen.”

He didn’t get as much playing time or film as he wanted from his XFL foray, but he doesn’t regret taking the chance.

“I think the quality of the league was pretty good. I felt I was a little more comfortable playing the American game again, because that’s what I’d grown up playing. I was only there for a couple of weeks, but it was cool, man. It was fun.

“I tell people, any time I get a chance to showcase my talents, I’m excited about that. I got a chance to play pro football pretty much in my own backyard. That’s the opportunity the XFL afforded me.”



The XFL’s innovative kickoff rules made an impression on Derek Dennis.

“It made kickoffs a lot safer and limited the amount of collisions and injuries that happen on kickoffs,” said the former Canadian Football League offensive lineman, who spent two weeks with the New York Guardians before COVID-19 shut down the league on March 12.

The XFL’s kickoff formation had the kicking and cover teams separated by just five yards inside the receiving team’s half, while the kicker was positioned at his own 30. Neither team could move until the ball was fielded.

It’s an alignment that prevents the hellacious collisions between players running at one another at high speed over 30 or 40 yards.

“In college we called it the nut squad because you had to have, pardon the language, a pair of nuts to be on that (kickoff) team, to run with speed at somebody and hit them with reckless abandonment,” said Dennis, who played college ball at Temple.

“I think the innovation of the kickoff will be something that you will see in football for years to come because it limits the amount of damage done to bodies on those return and kickoff teams, and you still got to see some exciting returns.”


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