Despite talks and intent of the XFL and USFL merging, the Houston Gamblers press forward with the offseason as they prepare for free agency.
The Gamblers have been busy in September with eight players being released, two players being signed, and three players being resigned.
Houston Gamblers September Cuts
Starting with the cuts, eight players were released from the roster. Some big names cut include backup quarterback Terry Wilson, offensive tackle Brandon Hitner, and safety Andrew Soroh.
Wilson played in five games with Houston and started one game as starting quarterback Kenji Bahar fought through an ankle injury, he suffered against the Philadelphia Stars. The final stat line for Wilson includes 138 yards passing and one touchdown and finished third on the team in rushing yards with 95 yards.
Hitner was a starter on the offensive line last season for Houston, starting two games for the team. Fans saw Hinter play at right guard for the team but did deal with a shoulder injury throughout the season.
Andrew Soroh found some playing time last season for Houston at safety as he finished with 20 tackles and one pass deflection on the season. With some different rotations with the secondary due to injuries, Soroh was able to play but was also part of the injury issues as he at one point dealt with a head injury.
Houston Gamblers September Signings
After signing two cornerbacks to the roster in August, the team brought in two more cornerbacks earlier in the month. They signed former Clemson cornerback Elijah Rodgers and 2023 second-round USFL College Draft pick Justin Ford.
Ford became the second Houston Gamblers draft pick from the USFL College Draft earlier in the year to join the roster as the first was defensive lineman Jeffery Johnson. Back in 2021 with Montana, Ford had nine interceptions, two defensive touchdowns, and one field goal block earning him a First-Team All-Big Sky selection.
Rodgers played for the Clemson Tigers as a cornerback, only recording one tackle in 2021. He also played in five games in the 2022 season without recording a stat during the year. Rodgers was also a member of Indiana and Gardner-Webb during his college career.
The Gamblers announced on social media that they had re-signed three players onto the roster. Houston is bringing back wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams, safety Jeremiah Johnson, and defensive end Isaiah Chambers
Johnson was fifth on the team in tackles in 2023 with 33 also adding four pass deflections, one interception, and one fumble recovery. Chambers also played a key role on the defense finishing as the team’s leader sacker with 4.5 on the year with 30 tackles and a team-high 12.5 tackles for loss. Ratliff-Williams was fourth on the team in receiving yards with 224 yards on 13 receptions and three touchdowns.
Who Will Hit Free Agency on the Houston Gamblers
USFL reporter James Larsen released a list of players who will be hitting the free-agent market on October 1.
Two players were already signed with Ratliff-Williams and Johnson. There are a lot of good players on the list that the team would see as big losses.
Quarterback is always the key position for any team and Houston already cut Wilson from the team. They will also see Kenji Bahar and Montell Cozart out in the open market as well. Bahar was the backup in 2022 before Clayton Thorson suffered an arm injury resulting in him finishing the season as the starter. In 2023, Bahar started nine of the ten games finishing with 1,709 yards with eight touchdowns and nine interceptions.
The biggest offensive weapon on Houston last season with 2023 USFL Offensive Player of the Year Mark Thompson who was one of the top running backs in the USFL. Thompson picked up 653 yards on the ground and a staggering league-leading 14 rushing touchdowns. He also had 90 yards receiving on 15 receptions.
With tight end Josh Pederson in the NFL, the Gamblers need help in the passing game. They already have Justin Hall and Keke Chism, but Teo Redding appears to be heading into free agency. With the signing of Ratliff-Williams, it could mean Redding might not be coming back to the team.
Houston’s starting tackle and All-USFL selection Avery Gennesy has yet to be re-signed onto the team which would present a big loss for Houston. Gennesy was ranked one of the best offensive linemen in the USFL as he possessed great pass protection skills and helped Thompson open big runs throughout the season.
Biggest Needs for the Houston Gamblers
So far in the offseason, Houston has had a heavy focus on the secondary signing multiple cornerbacks to help. It’s been clear that’s where the team felt they needed to improve upon which makes sense as they were the worst pass defense in the USFL being the only team that allowed over 200 yards a game. Houston was also second worst in points allowed per game with 23.
Bahar is a veteran of the team and got off to a fast start to the 2023 season. It was after the ankle injury that he never recovered 100 percent having turnover issues the rest of the season. Now finding the right quarterback must be their focus. They drafted Chase Brice in the first round of the USFL College Draft this year so maybe convincing him to play could help. Either that or they will have to bring back Bahar to have stability in the position.
Houston’s offense revolved around Thompson as he has been one of the best running backs in the league the last two seasons. The Gamblers must figure out a way to get him to come back. Thompson has hinted at playing somewhere else other than Houston so the Gamblers could be bracing for him not being back playing for them. They would have to dig deep to find a suitable replacement for him, but that will not be easy.
It appears that Houston is going to go through a major cleanup with the roster with a new general manager, Lionel Vital, running the show alongside head coach Curtis Johnson. Gamblers fans should be ready for a busy offseason should every stay intact with the merger lingering.