In 1999, South Park took on Canada and blamed them of everything from endangering to their children to being responsible for Bryan Adams. We can’t blame them for that one. But, Canada has been helpful to the United States if only because they provide another league for ex-NFL players who have been cast out of the league for performance, suspension, or being labeled a distraction to still play football.
In fact, the Canada Football League is one of just several notable leagues where former NFL players go to play and try to resurrect their careers. Today, we’re going to look at some of the more memorable players who have gone to leagues – the CFL, XFL, and so on – and either had an extraordinary amount of success or failed miserably. Our only true ground rules are that NFL Europe counts and players on this list would have had to participate in these leagues since the turn of the century. In other words, no United States Football League players under Donald Trump are on here because that’s well before our cutoff date.
So if you’re ready to explore indoor football or go to Canada – and keep your eyes out for Bryan Adams – let’s get to work.
15. Star: James Harrison (NFL Europe)
By this point, we should all know James Harrison’s story and how he went from undrafted free agent to bouncing around for several different teams before becoming a mainstay with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2007. What you may not know is that along the way, Harrison was a Baltimore Raven but didn’t play for them, actually playing for NFL Europe’s Rhein Fire in 2004.
Though the Fire went 3-7 that season, Harrison showed enough for the Steelers to bring him back later that same year and keep him around as a depth linebacker until Mike Tomlin arrived in 2007 and the rest was history. Harrison will now try for his third Super Bowl ring after signing with the New England Patriots late last month following a controversial release by the Steelers.
14. Failed: Terrell Owens (Indoor Football League)
Depending on how you want to look at Owens’ 2012 stint with the Indoor Football League, you may view his three touchdown game as a success and you might say that he showed enough to get a training camp tryout with the Seattle Seahawks later that year, so why are we putting him here? We’re talking about Terrell Owens, a player who was a no-doubt Hall of Famer for much of his career and should’ve easily dominated a league like that. While Owens did catch 35 balls for 420 yards and ten touchdowns, the All-Pro wideout looked lethargic and was cut for a lack of effort.
13. Star: Tommy Maddox (XFL)
We all know how well this one worked out, especially with the XFL potentially looking to make a return in the coming years. Maddox actually starred in the Arena Football League two years prior, throwing for 64 touchdowns to 15 interceptions on the New Jersey Red Dogs after working in insurance. One of the few true breakout players to come from the XFL (more on them later), Maddox was named the league’s MVP and parlayed his strong time under Vince McMahon into a contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers as Kordell Stewart’s backup.
From then on, Maddox was a part-time starter for the Steelers and won a ring in early 2006 before being a salary cap casualty. If the XFL does in fact return, look for some type of award to be named after Maddox.
12. Failed: Chad Johnson/Ochocinco (Canadian Football League)
Like Owens, Johnson/Ochocinco/Cinco Ocho/Hachi Go should have been much better in the Canadian Football League than he turned out to be, although the CFL obviously has better talent than the Indoor Football League. Owens at least managed to make it onto the field, while Johnson battled injuries and, wait for it, clashes with the front office. Johnson had seven catches for 151 yards and a touchdown in 2014, but was suspended for all of 2015 after failing to report for mandatory training camp.
Again, let’s not delude ourselves into being surprised that Johnson didn’t get along with the people who ran the team, but he’s said that the team overreacted to him needing to take care of family business. Besides, would you be surprised if we see Johnson in another league in the coming years?
11. Star: David Akers (NFL Europe)
Old Man David Akers was in the NFL for so long that the only pictures of him in NFL Europe were hand drawn on stone tablets. From 1997-1999, Akers spent time with the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, and Washington Redskins, but only saw playing time with the latter in 1998, making two extra points but missing two field goals. Akers was then claimed off waivers by the Eagles and sent to Berlin, where he kicked for the Thunder and parlayed that into the team’s starting job come 2000.
Akers spent 2000-10 with the Eagles before moving onto San Francisco in 2011 and finishing his career with the Detroit Lions in 2013. There is still no word about if the stone tablets showing him kicking over the remnants of the Berlin Wall have been found.
10. Failed: Ricky Williams (Canadian Football League)
Should we call Ricky Williams’ time in the CFL a failure when he averaged 4.8 yards per carry and ran for 526 yards? It’s not the lack of touchdowns (only two) that has him here, but just the idea that Williams – who was so dangerous in his prime with the Miami Dolphins and would show off that potential when he returned to the league in 2007 – didn’t totally tear up the CFL like we all expected he would.
“If I came back here, you can put me anywhere,” Williams said when he joined the CFL. “Up here, I can play offense, defense, special teams. I can do everything. I can block, play tight end, running back, receiver — even play the line. The NFL is so structured — ‘You do this.’ Here I can do so much.”
9. Star: Trent Richardson (Canadian Football League)
It may be a bit too early to call Richardson a star in the CFL, but things seem to have worked out for the former star Alabama running back. In four games this past season, Richardson had 259 yards and two touchdowns, including one game where he ran for more yards (127) than he did in any NFL game.
“I appreciate the CFL. I appreciate Saskatchewan. The whole team, man, for what they did for me, I can’t never repay them back …A big thing for me going to Canada was to get back on the field with a fresh start,” Richardson said via Bleacher Report after the season ended. “Not a lot of people around me … just being not distracted and playing football like I usually play football.”
8. Failed: Quincy Carter (Multiple Leagues)
Carter’s bounced quite around a bit since his final NFL snap in 2004, starting with the CFL in 2006…where he was cut after only a month because of a marijuana problem. In 2007, Carter landed with the Bossier-Shrevepport Battle Wings of the af2, where he threw for 18 touchdowns in three games but was suspended for missing team meetings and arrested for possession charges. Still, Carter showed enough to make it to the Arena Football League and even earn a tryout with the Miami Dolphins, but neither of those stints worked out.
2009 saw Carter try to play in the Indoor Football League, where he was arrested again for an outstanding DUI warrant and not paying his bondsman. After being cut for not showing for a game, we didn’t see Carter on the field until a 2015 stint with the American Indoor Football League’s Corpus Christi Fury. So, I think it’s fair to say he’s failed in pretty much each league.
7. Star: John Avery (XFL)
When it comes to the XFL, the only players we talk about are Tommy Maddox (above!) and Rod “He Hate Me” Smart (below!). But why doesn’t anyone show John Avery, a former first-round pick of the Miami Dolphins in 1998, any love? Avery led the XFL with 800 rushing yards and added five touchdowns for the Chicago Enforcers after being cast away from Miami and Denver.
Avery actually managed to make it back to the NFL in 2003 after starring for the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos in 2002 and stuck around in Canada from 2004-08, becoming a fan favorite for the Toronto Argonauts, but if not for what he did in the XFL, Avery might have been out of football forever. Way to save careers, Vince!
6. Failed: Michael Sam (Canadian Football League)
But while the CFL does save many careers, it couldn’t save Michael Sam’s. Make up your own theory about why Sam wasn’t able to stick around in the NFL – whether it be because the Rams only drafted him as a publicity stunt, because the league told them to, or because he just wasn’t that good a player – but the facts show that Sam signed with the Montreal Alouettes in May 2015, becoming the CFL’s first openly gay player. Hooray!
Unfortunately for Sam, “personal reasons” and what he later called mental health issues kept him away from the team for a bit until he made his CFL debut in August 2015. Hooray! A week later, Sam retired from football and is now an author and motivational speaker. Hooray! Not about him retiring, but “hooray!” that he was able to find something he can be happy with.
5. Star: Simeon Rice (United Football League)
Unlike Sam, there was an ex-NFL defensive end who made his impact felt in another league and that was ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneer Simeon Rice. You may not remember this, but Simeon Rice had 119 sacks from 1996-2005. That’s a Hall of Fame pace, with Rice on pace to finish among the league’s top 3 pass-rushers in total sacks since the stat was created in 1981.
Injuries limited Rice to two sacks in 2006 and he only had one across nine games with the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts in 2007. No team took a chance on Rice until 2009, when the New York Sentinels of the United Football League came calling. Rice didn’t have his same sack efficiency, but became a fan favorite on an 0-6 team. it was good enough!
4. Failed: Troy Smith (United Football League/Canadian Football League)
We love you, Troy Smith, even if you could never quite get things done efficiently enough at the NFL level. After a decent enough season with the 49ers in 2010 that could have likely seen him return if not for Jim Harbaugh’s hire, Smith went to the United Football league and was decent enough for the Omaha Nighthawks as a backup; Smith did start one game there, throwing two touchdowns and an interception in a loss to Sacramento.
By 2013, Smith was in the CFL like nearly everyone else on this list, enjoying a strong first season with Montreal before performing abysmally in 2014 and being released from a three-year contract. Even in Canada, with their little beady eyes and flappin’ heads so full of lies, they also believe in overpaying a quarterback after a good game or two.
3. Star: Rod Smart (XFL)
Do we even need to explain this one? Rod Smart is an icon nearly 20 years after the XFL’s lone season (so far!) not only for his play, but his unique jersey: “He Hate Me.” Who hated Rod Smart?
“Basically, my opponent is going to hate me. After I win, he’s gonna hate me. It is what it is. It’s a saying I was saying when I’d feel something wasn’t going my way. For example, (when) I was on the squad in Vegas and coach was putting other guys in, (if) I felt I’m better than them, you know, hey, ‘he hate me.’ See what I’m saying? Give me a chance.”
2. Failed: Vince Young (Canadian Football League)
As much as we all love Vince Young, I think we knew that this move was bound to fail. After not playing in the NFL since 2011 and not being on a roster since 2013, Young signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders this past June, didn’t play in a game, tore his hamstring in practice, and then was cut. If anyone truly expected Young to dominate the CFL like he was supposed to dominate the NFL over a decade ago, you knew that was an extremely unrealistic hope.
Have we seen the last of Vince Young as a player? Unless he goes to the Indoor Football League or something, the answer is probably yes. If it’s any consolation, at least he didn’t lose all of his money to a Kardashian.
1. Star: Brandon Banks (Canadian Football League)
Brandon Banks was supposed to be a dangers, electrifying playmaker with the Washington Redskins and did exactly that in Madden, but not in real life. Brandon Banks has been a dangerous, electrifying playmaker with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats and would do exactly that if there was a CFL video game (which I fully expect to happen at some point with all of these Kickstarter movements).
In five seasons with the Tiger-Cats, Banks has 172 catches for 2,231 yards and 18 touchdowns, which may not sound too exciting until you watch some of his highlights. At this point, I wouldn’t be shocked if an NFL team tries to offer Banks a tryout to training camp this offseason. I’m sure the New York Giants could use another receiver…
Which of these players’ post-NFL journeys have been the most surprising? Make sure to let us know in the comment section below!
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