Two weeks into the first season of the rebooted XFL, the DC Defenders' Cardale Jones has established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the league. He leads the league in passing yardage and boasts a 102 rating while leading his team to back-to-back double-digit victories. Given his four years in the NFL -- two of which he spent with the Los Angeles Chargers -- Jones can reasonably claim the title of brightest star in the new football league.
While some might minimize those accomplishments given the level of competition, Jones feels thankful for the XFL and the platform it has given him.
"I think it was it was a great opportunity for me to take advantage of the opportunity to have finally have a chance to start and play and contribute to the organization instead of just being pretty much a practice player in the NFL," Jones said on the Adam Schefter Podcast this week, adding, "I was lucky enough to be in a room with some unbelievable quarterbacks [in the NFL], first in Buffalo with EJ Manuel and a guy named Tyrod Taylor who we all know of."
The Buffalo Bills selected Jones in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft but gave up on him after one season and 11 pass attempts. The team sent him to the Chargers the following offseason, allowing Jones to absorb knowledge from star quarterback Philip Rivers.
"To learn behind them guys -- and definitely when I got out to the Chargers and being in the room with a guy like Philip Rivers who really elevated my game and Kellen Clemens -- elevate my game from a mental standpoint the first week I was there, it literally made me feel like I never played football a day in my life being around them guys because of the way they approach each and every game and each and every practice."
Though Jones appreciates what he gained from spending time with Rivers and the Chargers, he knew that the team wouldn't give him a path to the field in a meaningful game. The same situation unfolded in 2019 when Jones served as a practice-squad player for the Seattle Seahawks and Russell Wilson. "It wasn't like I was going to really compete or take them down," he said.
All of which illustrates why Jones jumped at the chance to play in the XFL. The league allows Jones to approach each day as the starter, gaining valuable reps and showing talent evaluators how he has developed since his one regular-season appearance four seasons ago.
"I think the biggest difference from [the NFL] to now is finally having the opportunity to show what I got," Jones said. "And definitely I grew a lot in the mental aspect of being a quarterback. And not just been a quarterback, being an NFL player or professional football player. There's a lot of things that kind of goes without being said of what you need to require, what you need to do, or how you need to act. And I learned that, and it got me here which I'm thankful for. But I think that's the biggest difference and definitely with my growth."
-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH