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Several former Lions to pioneer San Diego team in new football league

There’s a new game coming to town, and one of its teams will start their franchise with several names who will ring a bell for Lions fans.

Detroit Lions v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

It’s an exciting time to be a football fan. The NFL has never been stronger, and now we’re about to hit a potential jackpot with not one, but two new football leagues. If you’ve been following along, you should be no stranger to new leagues. The FXFL, or Fall Experimental Football League, attempted to become a developmental league for the NFL but folded in 2016 after only two seasons. In 2020, we’re going to witness the rebirth of Vince McMahon’s XFL, but before that happens the Alliance of American Football will be fielding eight teams with around 500 players, and one team in particular will have several coaches that should be familiar to Lions fans.

The San Diego Fleet, one of the eight franchises the new league will be launching, will hit the field with their new head coach, Mike Martz. Martz was the Detroit Lions offensive coordinator during the 2006 and 2007 seasons before getting fired after the team’s collapse following a 6-2 start that season. With Martz now at the helm, San Diego should prepare itself for about one hundred seven-step drops a game, am I right, fellas? (Editor’s note: please remove references that will appear dated to modern fans).

Former Lions quarterback, and Mike Martz disciple, Jon Kitna will be the team’s offensive coordinator. Considering the beating he took under Martz, maybe he’ll quash the seven-step drop altogether, but that remains to be seen. Kitna is joined by his brother, Mike, who will act as the team’s assistant offensive line coach. The inclusion of both Kitnas opens the door to some potential drama, since they were both involved in some pretty crazy shenanigans as high school coaches recently.

Former Lions Pro Bowl defensive back Dre’ Bly will also join the Fleet, acting as defensive backs coach. Bly, an All Pro in 2003, was a fan favorite during his tenure with the Lions, and even attempted to make a comeback with the team in 2010, though it was unsuccessful. This isn’t Bly’s first foray into the coaching arena, but it will be his first time doing so with professionals at any level.

On the other side of the ball, former Lions receiver and the first Lion to score a touchdown at Ford Field, Az-Zahir Hakim, is taking over as the Fleet’s wide receivers coach. A college receivers coach, Hakim is also making his first jump into the professional arena. One of the more electric receivers to play in Detroit, Hakim was a fan favorite when he played for the Lions both for his receiving ability and for his work as a punt returner.

If you’re interested in seeing who they’ll be coaching, including former Lions pre-season linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton, check it out here.

So what else will the new league bring to the table besides some long-retired Lions? Well, as detailed here, kickoffs are gone. Instead, teams will start at their own 25. Late in the game and wish you could go for an onside kick? Sorry, you can’t, but teams have the option to instead start at their own 35 on fourth-and-10. Extra points, also gone (Kickers in the AAF are apparently not people, too). Instead, teams will be forced to do what NFL teams should have been doing all along anyway, go for two every time. There’s a shorter play clock, so uptempo offenses are likely to be more prevalent.

Players won’t be going at this thing for free. As noted by ESPN:

The Alliance offers three-year, $250,000 player contracts that include an out clause if they get another crack at the NFL. There’s bonus money for everything from marketing to public appearances, which is where bigger-name players -- perhaps accomplished NFL veterans muscled out of the game -- can make good side coin.

With the recent legal changes in the United States regarding gambling, the AAF isn’t screwing around, instead putting all their chips into the betting markets. Banking on the appeal of big-named former players (other teams landed former NFL stars like Michael Vick) and exciting local talents in their charter cities, the league is hoping to give opportunities to football players who may have simply missed their first shot at the NFL, while giving others a chance to develop into players that could appeal to the granddaddy NFL.

With Charlie Ebersol leading the charge and Bill Polian pulling talent, this new league may be a lot of fun. They’ve already released their rosters and coaching staffs but also showcased some pretty sweet logos and team colors for their inaugural squads. It’s an interesting, but workable financial model for the players, and when adding in the gambling stuff, we’re probably not going to see a USFL type of collapse. I’m just excited to have football starting in February, which is normally when we mourn the end of football for half a year.

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