The XFL gave Deatrick Nichols exactly what he needed: A chance to play.
With it, he created his pathway back to the NFL – Nichols, undrafted in 2018, has agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the New Orleans Saints.
The defensive back joined defensive end Noah Spence in committing to the Saints on Tuesday (Spence re-signed with New Orleans on a one-year contract), and each seeks to earn playing time at positions where the Saints can use some quality depth.
Nichols spent this spring in the XFL with the Houston Roughnecks and led the league with three interceptions before the season was shortened. Originally, he signed with the Arizona Cardinals as a free agent following the 2018 NFL Draft and was on the 53-man roster for six weeks (one solo special teams tackle in two games). But since he was released, he has been looking for a way to get his foot back in the NFL's door.
After watching his work, New Orleans came knocking at his.
"I really don't think I would have had this opportunity (if not for playing in the XFL)," he said. "It came to me. I'm very happy that I made that decision to play in that league. It's a good league. I really enjoyed it."
Nichols had a productive college career at South Florida. In 50 games (39 starts), he finished with 175 tackles, 11 interceptions (third-most in school history), 24 passes defensed, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, a sack and 14.5 tackles for loss. He was a three-time All-American Athletic Conference selection.
That play-making could earn him a future with the Saints.
"Basically just keep your head down and then just work," Nichols said. "Everybody's story is always going to be different. That's how I look at.
"It doesn't matter if you stay in the same household or whatever, everybody's story's going to be different. So you've just got to take the good with the bad, even though I don't feel like it was a bad, but that's just how I go about any situation I go through. Everybody's story's going to be different, unique and everything like that."
His unique chronicling will include a stay in the XFL, which ended his inactivity.
"The XFL basically came, probably, I would say week 15, 16 in the NFL season," he said. "So it wasn't a really a hard decision because I just wanted to play some football. So basically it was an opportunity I couldn't (pass) up."
Spence, a four-year veteran who was on the Saints' roster the final three regular-season games and the Wild Card playoff game in 2019, pretty much felt the same.
He wasn't keen on passing up an opportunity to continue playing in New Orleans. After three seasons with Tampa Bay and a portion of a season with Washington, the limited exposure Spence had to the Saints was influential.
"I guess I was just really attracted to the culture of the program," he said. "I have never been somewhere that was run, and just felt the way it did, over there. You can tell everybody wants to win and is not just there for just for money or anything like that. Everybody actually really loves the game, they love it there and it's a culture everybody wants to be in if they've seen it.
"I mean, it was always something that other people that I know from the league would tell me. But I mean, until you are in the building, you don't really know what they're talking about. You can tell me whatever, but as soon as you're there you see it's run real strategic and everything to point and everyone's getting better every day, just with the littlest details and teaching everything. That is a big difference."