Sometimes in football a player and will get pigeonholed. A scout sees a situation where maybe a player didn’t block well enough in a game or was not polished enough as receiver in route running and they write them off. In Brandon Barnes’s case he found himself right now because the teams he has played on simply haven’t use the tight end the way they should have.
Started In High School
It’s nearly unbelievable to me, so much so I have a hard time writing this but Barnes, a man who made it to the NFL, has never gotten the role he deserves. This started way back in high school where his high school was often over-matched by teams that were gifted with a lot more resources to work with as a team.
During this stretch Barnes who has a wide receiver at the time, had not been asked to block very much. He had no knowledge of the tight end position up to that point, and had never run a route out of a three point stance. When you add in on top of that that he was used to blocking high school level cornerbacks, but then immediately transitioned to Tight end in college and was asked to block linebackers and defensive ends, you see why there might have been knocks on him coming out.
This position switch essentially meant that Barnes had to relearn everything he already knew. For as much as the wide receiver position does share some things with tight end, The differences are immediately apparent.
Having to learn a new position on the fly led to the issues the scouts were seeing and knocking him for. Despite the fact that he showed the necessary athleticism having been a former wide receiver, Barnes simply wasn’t ready to block Defensive ends, and it showed on tape.
You would think there would be some sort of grading curve for a wide receiver making the conversion to tight end, but it appears NFL scouts simply thought they had seen enough. This and very little else is what led to Barnes, going undrafted. Many of his Knocks are related to the overall position change and his lack of polish as a tight end in an extremely deep tight end class as a rookie.
“you need more film”
After making it to the NFL, Brandon had been balling out in training camp for the Detroit Lions. However, due to an injury suffered in a scrimmage, the Lions opted to release Barnes. Barnes would get contacted by the Jets, almost immediately. This led to a work out with the team, and due to his status within the league he was forced to show up to this work out injured and still try to perform.
Barnes, was able to tough it out and earn a contract offer from the Jets at the time. Working underneath head coach Todd Bowles, and tight end coach Jimmie Johnson, a former NFL tight end, Barnes played in the preseason with the Jets but didn’t stick. He ends up back in Detroit again this time under Matt Patricia. Patricia was looking for players he was more familiar with an chose to release Barnes.
This started a series of workouts for NFL teams in which almost every team gave Barnes the same answer. “Your workout was great, but you need more film.” Finally, during a work out with the Washington Commanders, Doug Williams pulled Barnes to the side. Ultimately to echo a message that was all too familiar to Barnes at this point. “You need more Film.” However, Williams made it clear that without that film Barnes simply was never going to get the opportunity that he deserved in the NFL.
AAF Presents an Opportunity
After a pretty rough 2018 NFL season, Barnes and his agent sat down to have a talk. They both agreed that the best case scenario was for Barnes to pursue the Alliance of American football in the 2019 season. This league would provide an opportunity for Barnes to get more film out there in game situations against professional level talent.
Ironically, Barnes actually reported it to a mini camp at the AAF held in late 2018. At that time he had been signed by his hometown Birmingham Iron. However, before training camp even really began head coach Tim Lewis, opted to release Barnes and go in different direction.
In what must have felt like a slap to the face, Barnes found himself cut by his first ever spring league football team. His stay in free agency was short-lived. He ultimately was snatched up by the Memphis Express almost immediately. The Express essentially made Barnes their starting tight end right away.
Finally Back on the Field
After nearly 2 years off of the field as far, Barnes had finally gotten an opportunity to get back on the field where he belonged. He would go on to play 8 Games with the Alliance of American football. During those eight games, Barnes got his share of targets showing his ability as a receiver once again.
In a cruel twist of fate, following the eighth game of the season the AAF would end up shutting down. This would leave thousands of people tied to the league out of work. More importantly it crushed dreams for several players.
Brandon Barnes, however was not one of the players that let himself be defeated by one league shutting down. In fact with the XFL looking to re-launch in 2020 and the news coming out fairly soon after the shut down of the AAF, he saw he had another opportunity to round out his film that he had already gotten at this point.
Welcome to L.A.
The XFL afforded many players opportunities they never had before. This much was definitely true for Brandon Barnes. The XFL, saw Barnes for what he was, one of the best tight ends available to them at the time. Due to this, Barnes would hear his name called for the first time in a professional football league draft. He would wind up being the second tight end off the board behind only Nick Truesdell who simply had more roster experience than Barnes.
The Los Angeles Wildcats led by head coach Winston Moss, Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow, and assistant head coach/tight ends coach Ty Knott Loved what they saw in Barnes, ultimately selecting him in the 4th round of the skill position portion of the draft.
In speaking with Barnes himself he credits tight end Coach Ty Knott, and offensive line coach Jerry Fontenot with his dramatic improvement as a blocker. These men knew that he simply needed proper coaching to get to a high level as a total package tight end. Watching his film during the 2020 season, in the 4 1/2 games that he played you see a quite the change in Barnes as a blocker.
COVID-19 Rears its Ugly Head
As we all know after five games the XFL was forced to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With this again another league had left thousands of people unemployed due to circumstances outside of their control or their long-term vision for their league. With Vince McMahon having way too much money tied up in the league and only being able to play five games on the field, he was forced to file bankruptcy.
Due to this, the news coming out around the 2020 version of the XFL was at times hard to follow. At first it sounded like the league would return in 2021 or as soon as they possibly could after Covid restrictions had been lifted. However as time went on that was all thrown into question.
Before long it was announced that the XFL would not return indefinitely. During the bankruptcy proceedings former owner Vince McMahon again tries to buy back his assets from the league in an effort to eventually re-launch for a third time. This time the legal system stepped in and stopped him from re-purchasing the XFL, and that opens the door for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to purchase the league.
In The Dark
Following the XFL several guys got an opportunity at the NFL level. The thing is Brandon Barnes was not so lucky. Unfortunately, in what would end up being the last game of the 2020 XFL season Brandon Barnes tore up his knee. This would force him to miss a nearly a calendar year rehabbing.
On one hand this Matt Barnes was less effective than other players by the XFL shut down. On the other hand, it was a worst case scenario given that he was now not able to pursue an NFL contract during the 2020 season due to his injury. It seemed as if the set Barnes back all over again.
Due to this Barnes was left in the dark for a little over a season and a half. It wasn’t until the USFL came around that Barnes was given an opportunity once again. During the time away from the game Barnes was forced to work three different jobs while still staying ready in hopes that another team would give him a shot.
The USFL is Reborn
In the 2022 season the USFL led by Brian Woods and Fox Sports, was resurrected from a grave that it had slept in for over 30 years. Despite many previous attempts by other entities to purchase the rights, and attempt to bring back the USFL, none ever got to the point where a football game was played.
With word that the USFL was coming back, many players from the 2020 XFL rejoiced. Spring Football was back and in a big way. The USFL provided more stability than previous leagues due to its very prominent backing by FOX. I believe, this lead many players who might not have otherwise considered Spring Football once again to make the return to the gridiron.
At this point, having not received much if any NFL interest for over a year, Barnes knew that the USFL was his best opportunity to get back on the field in front of NFL scouts. Prior to being drafted by the USFL, Barnes had been worked out by the Edmonton Elks. At this point it was a race to see who got a contract offer on the table first.
As history will show, the USFL acted fast. Ultimately inking Barnes to a contract, and adding him to the draft pool. For the second time in less than three seasons Barnes found himself drafted again for the second time in his short pro career. This time it was slightly different, being that his team had drafted another tight end that warranted NFL consideration at one point.
No Promises, Playing Time Must be Earned
Having been drafted by a team that had two clear cut potential number one tight ends, Barnes knew he had to earn his playing time. “In a league like this, there is no politics, everyone is paid the same.” Barnes says.
The thing is Houston had every intention of both men seeing the field. Kevin Sumlin and his coaching staff believed in a run heavy approach. Having selected one of the biggest running backs available in the draft class, It was clear Sumlin and his crew, wanted to impose their will on opposing offenses.
With that in mind their base offense was more or less a 12 personal package featuring 1 running back Mark Thompson, and 2 tight ends, Brandon Barnes and Julian Allen. The only problem was, when it came time to pass they would sub out the tight ends for wide receivers and not allow the tight ends to run as many routes as they maybe should have.
Houston as a Hub?
Given that I was speaking with a current Gamblers player, I had to ask his thoughts on if he thought there was a better choice for a second southern hub, than Houston. Barnes simply laughed and said no. Explaining that the XFL had tremendous support for their undefeated Roughnecks and he thinks that would carry to the Gamblers. I tend to agree, and this is a sentiment also echoed by my previous guests, Donald Payne Jr., and Texas Native Cody Brown of the Philadelphia Stars.
No Regrets Gamblers or Bust
When asked if Barnes, who grew up in Alabama, would have preferred to play for his home team…Barnes quickly replies no. He loved the teammates he had and he said he would do it all over again given the chance, even if it meant watching Birmingham win a championship from his couch after a 3-7 season.
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