UFL CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW: How the Stallions, Brahmas were built

Birmingham Stallions head coach Skip Holtz (left) and San Antonio Brahmas head coach Wade Phillips took different paths when it came to building their teams.
Birmingham Stallions head coach Skip Holtz (left) and San Antonio Brahmas head coach Wade Phillips took different paths when it came to building their teams. (UFL Images)

From a roster building point of view, Birmingham and San Antonio could not have gotten to the UFL Championship any differently. Birmingham has relied on players that have played under head coach Skip Holtz and who have worn the Stallions helmet for most of the last three seasons.

The Brahmas, however, completely retooled the team from 2023 under new head coach Wade Phillips, new general manager Marc Lillibridge, and a new coaching staff, many of whom came over with Phillips and Lillibridge from the Houston Roughnecks of 2023. Several players joined them in that journey.

Here is a glimpse as to how both rosters have been built.

Dispersal Draft Protections

What better place to start than at the beginning? When the UFL was announced, each surviving franchise was allowed to protect 42 players who were either under contract with the team, or who had signed letters of intent. Of those 42 protected by the Stallions, 34 have made it to this point on the 50-man roster or injured reserve. The bulk of those players played for Birmingham in 2023, and many even in 2022. In fact, 13 players from the final 2022 roster are still active today with the Stallions.

San Antonio had the unenviable task of trying to figure out what 42 players they wanted to protect from a roster they had not built, containing many players that would not fit into their offensive or defensive schemes. Previous Brahmas head coach Hines Ward only departed at the end of December, while the first two phases of the Dispersal Draft were held on January 5. That gave the new regime no time to add players during that short time frame.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that such a small number – eight, in fact – survived from those 42 initially protected to make the UFL Championship game with the Brahmas. It’s in stark contrast to the numbers on the Birmingham side of the ledger.

Dispersal Draft Selections

In phase two of the Dispersal Draft, teams in each league were allowed to draft up to 20 players only from their own league. These players could’ve come from teams that did not carry over in the merger, or players who went unprotected by surviving teams in the first phase.

The Stallions made just 11 selections in this phase. Three players are still on the roster today, including backup TE Marcus Baugh, who came from the New Orleans Breakers; K Chris Blewitt, originally of the Pittsburgh Maulers; and S Daniel Isom, late of the Philadelphia Stars, who had an interception and a sack in the USFL Conference Championship against Michigan.

San Antonio took the maximum 20 players here. All but two were former Houston Roughnecks, allowing the coaches to pluck players they had already indicated a desire for rostering on their former team. Thirteen of those 20 are currently Brahmas. The two non-Roughnecks both made it in DT Jalen Dalton (Seattle Sea Dragons) and TE Cody Latimer (Orlando Guardians). Despite so many Houston selections, just eight former Roughnecks in total remain on San Antonio’s playoff roster.

Super Dispersal Draft Selections

The only portion of the Dispersal Draft that was publicly revealed as it was happening, the third and final phase of the Dispersal Draft was a veritable free for all, as teams would be allowed to select players across leagues, while continuing to stockpile those from their own league and even their own team (for those they chose not to initially protect).

Birmingham opted to draft 11 players in this phase. After taking non-Stallions with three of the first four picks, their final seven were all players under Birmingham contract from 2023. However, there remain only two: LS Ryan Langan and CB Madre Harper.

San Antonio went with 10 in the Super Dispersal Draft. Almost half are still Brahmas, including the number one overall pick in this phase, QB Quinten Dormady. WRs KD Cannon and Landen Akers, and S AJ Hendy round out the list.

Rookie/College Draft

Both leagues held separate drafts for first-year players in 2023. The USFL held it prior to the NFL Draft, and prior to their season, while the XFL held its draft after both. Not only did no one from Brahmas XFL Rookie Draft make the team, but no one from Houston’s did either, even though the current-day San Antonio GM and several of the coaches were responsible for drafting them.

Ten selections per team were made in both the XFL Rookie Draft and the USFL College Draft. Birmingham, too, has no one on their roster that they drafted in February. Keep all this in mind when the excitement begins to build about the upcoming UFL first-year player draft, whatever they end up calling it.

Initial League Draft

Each league held drafts in 2022 to populate rosters before the first season of play. Seven Brahmas from that first draft are still with the team, including DT Prince Emili, who spent 2023 in the NFL and therefore didn’t play in San Antonio until this season; and two of their three specialists, P Brad Wing and LS Rex Sunahara.

Birmingham still has 12 of its selections on the roster, more impressive when you take into account that the Stallions are now in their third season, while San Antonio is only in its second. You would therefore expect fewer on the Stallions than on the Brahmas given the yearly roster turnover that naturally occurs in football; instead, they have more.

Free Agency

Few general managers have been as active in the free agent market as has Birmingham’s Zach Potter. Therefore, it’s no shock that 34 of the 50 Stallions players were acquired by way of free agency. That includes players who may have been drafted, released, and eventually re-signed. Between the Dispersal Draft and the start of the 2024 regular season, they signed nine of those 34 players.

Of San Antonio’s 50-man roster, 31 were signed as free agents. As Birmingham has played an extra year, it once again makes sense that there number would be higher. The Brahmas claimed two others off waivers, including DT Jaylen Twyman from Birmingham just last month. This is an example of how San Antonio’s roster has been rebuilt from the team that finished 3-7 in the XFL in 2023.

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