Why did AJ McCarron return to the St. Louis Battlehawks?

When AJ McCarron joined the resurrected XFL last year, the former Alabama All-American hadn’t played since suffering a knee injury in an NFL preseason game with the Atlanta Falcons on Aug. 21, 2021. With the St.

Louis Battlehawks in 2023, McCarron completed 203-of-295 passes for 2,150 yards with 24 touchdowns and six interceptions in nine games. He led the XFL in touchdown passes, completion percentage and passing-efficiency rating. That performance helped him land a backup role with the Cincinnati Bengals for a ninth season in the NFL.

Mission accomplished. Then why did McCarron ask the Bengals to release him early from his contract so he could re-sign with the Battlehawks? “I’ve known for a while that I wanted to come back,” McCarron said during a press conference on Friday. “It was just getting some things in order and really finding out what was best for me, and also talking to other coaches that I trust and people that I trust within this league and the NFL.

And then it’s not about the money to me. I’ve been blessed to make plenty of money and for especially the way I live. I don’t do anything crazy, and I have multiple businesses that we run and own, so it’s not about the money.

“It was just I felt like I could help his league grow. My kids get to watch it. It’s a win-win for me – and I get to play football and get to have fun.

I mean, hell, what else can you want to do? To be able to go to work every day and do something that you love, there’s a lot more people who hate getting up and going to work than there are that love it. I love it, and I’m excited for it. ” McCarron is returning to a new league.

Since last season, the XFL and the USFL merged into the United Football League, an eight-team organization formed from four XFL and four USFL franchises. Last season, St. Louis tied for the second-best record in the XFL at 7-3, but the Battlehawks didn’t make the four-team playoff field.

They missed the postseason via a tiebreaker based on league ranking for points scored and points allowed, even though in the regular-season finale McCarron threw for 420 yards, six touchdowns and four 2-point conversions in a 53-28 victory over the Orlando Guardians. “How we played that last game against Orlando and really opened up the offense,” McCarron said, “and (offensive coordinator) Bruce (Gradkowski) was unreal, just calling an unbelievable game, I felt like we were really starting to hit our stride and figure out exactly our identity and what we wanted to be on a per-down basis. We felt like if we got in, we were also going to get some key guys back on defense that we’d been missing from injury.

But, hell, that’s sports. We didn’t get in and it didn’t happen, so you can’t live off of what-if. “But there’s definitely unfinished business and something we want to work our butts off to that point to get into the playoffs and make a run at it.

” But for McCarron, there’s a bigger picture than winning the inaugural UFL championship. “I’ve had talks with a lot of the head people of the XFL last year and now the UFL,” McCarron said. “I think it’s key to have certain guys in this league.

A reason I chose to come back is I feel like I can help build the league up over years in whatever role that is for me – player, hopefully maybe coach one day. “The league is definitely key because the NFL doesn’t have enough time the way camp is after the draft and all that to develop some guys. And guys get lost in the cracks, right? Preseason’s getting cut down each and every year almost.

It’s probably going to get cut down again when the new CBA comes up. It’s something that needs to have success, and that’s also a goal for me. I took pride in how many guys from our offense we had sign to get a chance in camp.

And that’s something I feel like me being here I can do is help showcase guys’ talents and then help get them to that goal they want to be at and, hopefully, stay there, so that’s also a big part of it for me that I take pride in. ” Last year, 16 St. Louis players signed NFL contracts, the most among the spring-football teams.

McCarron said going from the XFL to the NFL to the UFL without a true offseason wouldn’t be too much for him physically at age 33. “I feel great,” McCarron said. “After I tore my ACL, I changed my eating habits, I changed my diet.

I’ve really focused on intake and also training. It’s funny because I hadn’t seen so many faces in Cincinnati in six or seven years, and I come back and the first thing – and it makes me feel good – but the first thing, they were like, ‘Man, you’re in so much better shape than you were back then, and you were younger back then. ’ “I’ve really stayed in shape.

I feel great right now, and I’m ready to roll. ” The UFL teams will start training camp in one week in Arlington, Texas. The Battlehawks kick off their season on March 30 against the Michigan Panthers in Detroit.

St. Louis’ home opener at the Dome at America’s Center is set for Week 2 against the Arlington Renegades on April 6. “St.

Louis was the only team and city I wanted to come back and play for,” McCarron said. “And, of course, it helps when you have (Anthony Becht) as your head coach and Bruce as your OC, a lot of the returning faces I had last year in teammates, too, and then some big key pieces that we picked up in the draft or free agency or whatever it was. Just the amount of support that I’ve received from the city of St.

Louis has been unreal and something that is unmatched, and I’m very thankful for that. … “The city of St. Louis means a ton.

The amount of support they showed me from the start last year, coming off an ACL and not seeing me play for a while, was literally unmatched. And it’s something I took great pride in because I know it’s a blue-collar city. People work their asses off, and that’s something I’ve always prided myself on is working my ass off to achieve whatever I can.

And the fact that they showed me that much support and love, not only to myself but to my teammates and the organization and family, friends, it just meant a ton to me. And so I want nothing more than to come back and win for the city and have a freaking championship parade going through downtown. That’s the goal.

We have a lot of work to do, starting next week, but that will be the mindset for all of us going into this thing. ” After that, the former St. Paul’s Episcopal star said he’ll still be “ready for a call” from the NFL for another 2024 season.


By Mark Inabinett | minabinett@al.com
Filed 02.18.2024

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