When the XFL returned from a 19-year hiatus in 2020, few knew what to expect from the spring start-up league. A handful of the players had recognizable names as former college stars and NFL players who were looking for opportunities to prove themselves.
One of those players was quarterback PJ Walker. The quarterback had three years of NFL experience with the Colts, but he had never played in a regular-season game.
Thus, he wasn’t a familiar name. That was especially true given that he decided to go by “PJ” with the XFL after being known as “Phillip” during his time with the Colts.
But soon, Walker turned himself into a household name among XFL fans and put himself on the radar as a potential NFL-level quarterback.
Nearly three years later, Walker has realized that potential. He now finds himself in a big role as the Panthers’ starter; and though he may not hold onto that job for the rest of the season, the 27-year-old has established that he belongs in the NFL in some capacity.
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There’s no question that Walker’s time in the XFL bolstered his chances of making it back into the NFL. Just how good was he with the Houston Roughnecks, and how did it lead the Panthers to sign him? Here’s what to know about his brief stint as an XFL superstar.
PJ Walker XFL stats
Walker quickly established himself as the XFL’s best quarterback during his time with the Roughnecks. He teamed up with coach June Jones to create an explosive passing attack and helped lead Houston to a 5-0 record before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jones was particularly complimentary of his play and thought that his star was destined for success.
“After having him for those five games, I just wanted to finish the year because he was finally coming into his own,” Jones told The Athletic. “Because it’s a whole new system, a whole new way of playing. I think he led the league in every category. He really was playing off his talent.
“And the last game and the last couple practices before the COVID closed us down, I couldn’t believe how PJ threw the ball in practice those couple days. I remember going into the coaches’ meeting and saying: ‘You guys, this is gonna be unbelievable. I’ve never had a guy practice like this.'”
Indeed, Walker was a star both on tape and statistically. He ranked top five in all major passing categories and had four more passing touchdowns than the next-highest-rated quarterback, Josh Johnson.
Below is a full look at Walker’s stats and where he ranked among quarterbacks in each major category.
It’s worth noting that Walker attempted 184 passes as part of the Gamblers’ high-flying offense. That was 49 more than the second-ranked passer. Still, he performed efficiently and did enough to earn an NFL opportunity with the Panthers.
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PJ Walker XFL highlights
Below is a look at Walker’s best and most explosive plays from his time with the Gamblers.
Why PJ Walker signed with Panthers after XFL success
Walker was the first XFL player to sign a contract with an NFL team after the league shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was no surprise he was a coveted commodity given the NFL’s constant need for quarterback talent.
That said, Walker elected to sign with the Panthers. It was a sensible fit for Carolina, as the team was looking for depth in the quarterback room after releasing Cam Newton.
Meanwhile, Walker got a chance to reunite with his college coach, Matt Rhule, who had taken over the Panthers that offseason. The duo worked together at Temple from 2013 to 2016, and their relationship played a role in Walker choosing Carolina.
“I’ve been through it with him,” Walker said of working with Rhule, per ESPN. “I know it does work. I know it takes time. You’ve just got to trust in what he’s saying and believe in what he believes, and eventually it will turn.”
Additionally, Walker believed he would have a chance to compete for a role with the team given his discussions with Rhule.
“He just wants me to come in here and compete,” he said. “He believes in me. He wants to be a leader and factor in building the team.”
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PJ Walker contract
Walker’s original contract with the Panthers was a two-year deal worth $1,565,000. He became an exclusive rights free agent following the 2021 NFL season, so Carolina had the right to tender him a one-year contract at the league minimum to prevent him from negotiating with other teams.
The Panthers tendered Walker and he received a deal worth $895,000 for the 2022 season; he accepted it.
Below is a breakdown of Walker’s base salary by season with the Panthers, per OverTheCap.com:
Per Spotrac.com, Walker has earned a total of $2,514,119 during his three years with the Panthers. That includes his $2,285,000 in base salary and the $229,119 he has made in bonus and incentives thus far during his time in Carolina.