PJ Walker signed a contract with the Carolina Panthers on Monday, making the former Houston Roughnecks quarterback the first player from the XFL to join an NFL roster.
Walker agreed to a two-year deal with the Panthers on the first day of eligibility for XFL players to sign with NFL teams.
Walker Was XFL’s Breakout Star
The XFL canceled the remainder of its season after the fifth week of play due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, league officials say that the XFL will be back for a 2021 season.
Up until that cancellation, Walker had been one of the brightest stars in the league. He quarterbacked the Roughnecks to a 5-0 record, making them the only undefeated team in the XFL. He led the league in both touchdown passes (15) and passing yardage (1,338).
Now, Walker joins a Panthers squad that is dealing with turmoil at the quarterback position. The Panthers are allowing Cam Newton to seek a trade, and are committed to releasing him if a deal can’t be made. In addition, Carolina traded Kyle Allen to the Washington Redskins for a fifth-round draft pick.
With Newton seemingly out of the picture, Teddy Bridgewater figures to be the favorite for the starting spot. Carolina will pay Bridgewater $63 million over three years, suggesting they see him as the quarterback of the future – or, at least, the new future.
Walker has one major edge in a potential quarterback battle: his existing relationship with head coach Matt Rhule. Walker played for Rhule at Temple from 2013 through 2016, giving the two a familiarity with each other.
“He just wants me to come in here and compete,” Walker told ESPN, speaking of Rhule’s expectations. “He believes in me. He wants to be a leader and factor in building the team.
Walker hasn’t been able to meet with Rhule or his new teammates yet due to the social distancing requirements that have been put into place over the coronavirus outbreak, he told ESPN.
Bridgewater, Grier Among Carolina QB Options
Chances are that Bridgewater will be the starter in Carolina. But Walker could very well compete with 2019 draft pick, Will Grier, for the primary backup position. The Panthers are a long shot to even contend for a playoff spot, with FanDuel Sportsbook making Carolina a +7000 pick to win the Super Bowl.
The 25-year-old Walker went undrafted after a standout college career at Temple. However, the Indianapolis Colts signed him in 2017. Walker spent time on the Colts practice squad throughout the 2017 and 2018 seasons before falling out of the NFL.
Most observers regarded Walker as the XFL player most likely to land with an NFL team, but other stars from the startup league could follow him. Other quarterbacks like Jordan Ta’amu and Josh Johnson impressed during their XFL runs, as did several veteran running backs, including Dallas Renegades backfield duo Cameron Artis-Payne and Lance Dunbar.