Canadian kicker Lirim Hajrullahu not ready to return to CFL, willing to try USFL or XFL in pursuit of NFL goal

Courtesy: AP Photo/Ron Jenkins

Canadian kicker Lirim Hajrullahu has gone six months without an NFL contract but don’t expect him to return to the CFL anytime soon.

Speaking to Rod Mawhood of Niagara Sports Report this week, Hajrullahu insisted that his focus remains entirely on opportunities south of the border. While multiple CFL teams would likely have interest in his services, returning to three-down football would present a nearly insurmountable challenge to his NFL goal due to the timeline of the two leagues,

“Say you’re on a bad team in the CFL. You’re gonna finish in what, end of October? So that’s probably like six or seven weeks into the NFL season,” the former Western Mustang explained. “You could still play an extra 10 games but because of the CBA, once you’re on the CFL roster at the end of the season, you can’t transfer to the NFL. You’d have to wait until the following September. That’s the only difficult part.”

While the CFL now offers an official window at the end of each season for players under contract to leave early for the NFL, those signed cannot play until the following season. According to some analysts, that has given a recruitment advantage to new alternative leagues in the United States, namely the USFL and XFL, whose spring seasons allow players to jump right into an NFL training camp.

Hajrullahu has some experience with alternative pro football, having spent parts of two seasons with the Generals of The Spring League. The St. Catharines native isn’t under contract with either of the CFL’s major competitors for their upcoming campaigns but says he would explore that option before coming back north.

“Right now, I haven’t committed to any of the USFL or XFL leagues but if I have to, I will,” he said. “There are also other opportunities in terms of showcase camps I can go to where all the NFL teams are there. There are a few other opportunities where I can showcase myself and just prove to them that I am the kicker that I am.”

Hajrullahu originally signed with the Los Angeles Rams ahead of the 2020 season but lost a training camp competition to rookie Sam Sloman. He later joined the Carolina Panthers practice squad but was released due to visa issues and re-signed on a futures contract, only to be cut again in the offseason.

The Canadian had a tumultuous 2021 season in which he had three separate stints with the Dallas Cowboys, one with the Washington Commanders and a second stop in Carolina. He dressed for one game with Dallas in November when veteran kicker Greg Zuerlein tested positive for the coronavirus and made all five of his point-after attempts. He finished the season with the Panthers and made four-of-five field goal attempts (80 percent) along with all of his point-after attempts while replacing an injured Zane Gonzalez.

After being waived by Carolina in May, he re-joined the Cowboys and looked poised to win the team’s primary place-kicking job. However, fellow CFL alumnus Brett Maher was brought in late to training camp, prompting Hajrullahu’s release.

The 32-year-old has yet to secure another NFL contract, taking part in one workout with the Detroit Lions. Maher, meanwhile, made headlines during the NFL playoffs for missing four point-after attempts in the Cowboys’ Wild Card win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Hajrullahu believes he is one of the 32 best kickers in football but notes that it isn’t always the most talented players who get those opportunities.

“That happens on a weekly basis. I’ve been at workouts where not the best kicker gets signed either,” he explained.”Some of the decisions that are made are very subjective and it’s not a matter of who is the best kicker that day or who’s the best kicker overall; there’s a lot more that goes into it.”

“To this day, if I knew I’d be the best agent in the world but as of right now, I just try to control the things that I can control.”

A refugee from Kosovo who came to Canada at the age of nine, Hajrullahu played six CFL seasons before making the jump south of the border, spending time with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Toronto Argonauts, and Hamilton Tiger-Cats after going unselected in the 2014 CFL Draft. He was twice named an East Division all-star and won a Grey Cup in 2017 with the Argos.

Hajrullahu played 18 regular-season games with Hamilton during his last CFL season in 2019, converting 47-of-55 field goal attempts (85.5 percent) and 26-of-28 single convert attempts (92.8 percent), while averaging 43.1 yards per punt on 106 attempts. He tied for first in the CFL in field goals made (47), third in scoring (162 points), and sixth in field goal percentage.

While he has yet to capture similar success in the NFL, the kicker is confident in his decision to exhaust all options in pursuit of his dream.

“At the end of the day, I can sleep well at night knowing that, given all the factors, I did everything I could to compete at the highest level and that’s all I can control,” Hajrullahu said. “When it comes to making decisions, I’m not going to kill myself over that just because someone didn’t choose me.”