By Lydia Jane Allison
League-wide initiative to help create more opportunities for talented athletes from around the world
September 13, 2023: The National Football League has announced the expansion of the practice squad for all 32 clubs beginning in 2024 to include one international player, helping to create more opportunities for talented athletes from around the world to be identified and developed in the game of football.
Since 2017, select divisions have been allocated international players as part of the NFL’s International Player Pathway (IPP) program. Between the program’s launch in 2017 and 2022, one division participated each year. This year, two divisions – the AFC West and the NFC North – are participating in the initiative, with eight players from the program being allocated to NFL clubs.
37 international players have signed with NFL teams (allocated, drafted or signed as a free agent) since the program’s inception. There are currently 19 IPP athletes on NFL rosters, with five players having made teams active rosters – Jordan Mailata (Australia – Philadelphia Eagles), Efe Obada (UK – Washington Commanders), Jakob Johnson (Germany – Las Vegas Raiders), Sammis Reyes (Chile – Washington Commanders) and David Bada (Germany – Washington Commanders).
Those international players, scouted globally as part of the NFL’s long-term football development efforts, were eligible for an international player practice squad exemption, granting the participating teams an extra practice squad member.
Beginning in 2024, the practice squad will expand to 17 players for all 32 clubs, if one player is a qualifying international player. For the purpose of the initiative, a qualifying international player is a person whose citizenship and principal place of residence are outside the United States and Canada, and who have a maximum of two years of United States high school experience. In addition, an international player must (i) satisfy all NFL player eligibility rules and (ii) have been eligible for a prior NFL Draft.
Clubs may choose to sign players identified through the NFL’s International Player Pathway program or can choose to independently scout for international talent.
“The practice squad roster expansion for international players will further contribute to our goal of building a sustainable pathway to the NFL for elite global athletes, while also creating local connections with fans around the world,” said Peter O’Reilly, NFL Executive Vice President, Club Business, Major Events & International. “With the support of all 32 clubs, the NFL International Committee, the NFL Competition Committee and the NFL Players Association, we look forward to implementing this new model to benefit the game long-term and welcome more international talent into our League in the years to come.”
“As interest and participation in our game continues to grow and thrive globally, the talent pool of players who have the potential to impact our game on and off the field keeps expanding as well,” said Joel Glazer, Owner/Co-Chairman of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chair of the NFL International Committee. “The opportunity for all 32 clubs to utilize an additional practice squad roster spot for an international player is a significant step forward in helping to identify, develop and enable more exciting talent from around the world to play in the NFL. Our clubs will embrace this new opportunity to develop the pipeline of international players as we grow our game.”
“The game grows and improves with global talent from around the world who inspire the next generation in their home nation,” said Troy Vincent, NFL Executive Vice President, Football Operations. “This League-wide initiative paves the way for more international athletes to demonstrate that football has a place for everyone.”
Under the new rules, a participating club is permitted to elevate its international practice squad player to its active roster a maximum of three times throughout the season – increasing the flexibility for clubs to leverage the additional player, while creating more opportunity for international players to develop and play in the League. Each club will also receive one training camp roster exemption for a qualifying player.
“The International Player Pathway program changed my life and I’m very thankful for the opportunity it has provided me,” said Jordan Mailata, Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle and IPP alumni from Australia. “The program shows so many young athletes around the world that playing in the NFL can be a reality. Expanding the program to see all 32 teams able to sign an international player to their practice squad will only continue to help make our sport better, more diverse and more competitive.”
The International Player Pathway program is part of a broader long-term commitment from the NFL and the 32 clubs to accelerate the development of football around the world. From the growth of NFL Flag football globally in partnership with the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), to the NFL Academy program and creating opportunities for talented student athletes to secure college football scholarships in the US to change lives, the NFL has a strategic focus on engaging and enabling young athletes to find, play and thrive in the sport.