When I first heard about the AAF I was excited. A new league, more football and a list of players and coaches associated with the upstart league that I had followed at some point in their careers. While looking through the teams I decided to become a Memphis Express fan if for no other reason than the opportunity to buy a cool looking baseball cap with an “M” on it. For someone like me, whose first name starts with an “M” and is unwilling to wear any Michigan gear, finding a cool hat with an “M” is a big deal.
When the first week of the AAF season started I was intrigued. I found a few aspects of the game better than the NFL version. The fact that the fans could hear the replay official and understand his thought process made it more enjoyable due to its transparency. Too often in the NFL a call goes against your favorite team (the Browns) and you feel like the refs are cheating or not giving your team their due. With the way the AAF handled it, you may not agree with the decision, but at least you hear what they are thinking.
During the eight weeks the league lasted, we got to see some players who never reached their full potential in the NFL play well. QB Garrett Gilbert, WRs Charles Johnson and Jalin Marshall teamed up to make the Orlando Apollos the most prolific offense of the AAF. This came as no surprise to anyone who was familiar with Coach Steve Spurrier’s history. Other players like RB Trent Richardson, QB John Wolford and WR Rashad Ross played consistently well enough to have their highlights shown. While defensively, CB De’Vante Bausby and LB DeMarquis Gates opened the eyes of many people (myself included) who were unfamiliar with them.
This past Tuesday it was announced that the AAF would be suspending their season and as of Thursday players were informed they can sign with NFL teams. Some will get that second chance they were looking for when they joined the AAF, but sadly many players did not have the time to show what they can really accomplish. It would not surprise me if the Browns go after a player or two to help with the depth of their roster but there probably won’t be any big moves made. It has been reported that QB Garrett Gilbert will be signed by the Browns as a backup to Baker Mayfield. Additionally, it may be wise for the Browns to go after a strong safety like Ryan Moeller, who was tied for the league lead with four interceptions.
Besides for the players, the coaches were getting a chance to show what they could do. Head coaches like Mike Singletary, Tim Lewis and Mike Martz were given an opportunity to mold these young players, not to mention the position coaches who were getting an opportunity to learn how to be a coach. Some of the former NFL players who were assistant coaches in the AAF include, Pepper Johnson, Az-Zahir Hakim, Lito Sheppard and Pete Metzelaars. Who knows if they will ever get another opportunity to coach?
I am sad that the AAF is folding. The AAF was fun, had some good rule differences from the NFL and gave opportunities to players and coaches to improve their skill sets. So as we bid the AAF adieu, I can take solace in knowing that at least I will have a cap to help me remember them.