Last year, the Washington Football Team entered new territory by signing a player under the International Player Pathway program. That player's name was David Bada, a defensive lineman from Germany who spent the 2020 season on the Washington Practice Squad. This off-season, Bada was re-signed to provide depth for the team. His signing may have been one of the reasons why the team felt comfortable releasing Caleb Brantley this week.
Today, the Football Team roster was helped by the International Player Pathway (IPP) program again, but in a different way. The team announced that is has signed Chilean Sammis Reyes as a tight end. Reyes had intended to enter the league through the IPP program, but Washinton was so impressed with his workout in March that they offered him a standard NFL contract to come to training camp this off-season. With Washington's lack of depth at the TE position, Reyes appears to have a legitimate chance to make the regular season roster.
If you aren’t familiar with the International Pathway Program, the NFL brings in athletes from foreign countries every year, giving them a shot at making an NFL team. In 2020, there were eight players from the program and four of them played in the NFC East. This season, another eight players will join the program, and they will be placed in two specific divisions, one AFC and one NFC, but they won't be in the NFCE this year. Befort signing Bada last year, Ron Rivera had had experience with the IPP program from his time in Carolina, where he hosted another defensive line player — that one from England — Efe Obada.
A few years back, former Giants player, Osi Umenyiora, himself an Englishman of Nigerian descent, talked about the International Player Pathway program:
“This is going to change people’s lives,” said Umenyiora. “They have a great opportunity. They are going to be seen not only by their new teams but by everyone who might imagine they can be NFL players. They will inspire people around the globe; people who never thought they had a chance to make it to the NFL. Now they see they have a viable pathway. These guys have worked very hard for this chance and I am confident they will make a great contribution to their teams while improving their skills and understanding of the game.”
In previous years, the IPP program was limited to just four players per year, but last year the program was expanded to eight players per season. In addition, kickers became eligible under the program, while they had been previously excluded.
There are special rules under the Pathway program that make it appealing for teams.
First of all, a player signed under the Pathway program doesn’t count toward the 90-man roster in the off-season. He is, in effect, the 91st guy. Plus, no matter what, the team is able to carry the player for the full season; even If he doesn’t make the 53-man roster or practice squad, the league created what was, last season, a special 11th practice squad spot for the Pathway Program players.
As part of the new CBA, owners and players agreed to incrementally increase practice squad rosters to 14, and increase wages to $10,500 per week. Effective with the 2020 season, each NFL team may keep up to 12 players on its practice squad in addition to the 55-man active roster; effective with the 2022 season, the number of players on the practice squad will increase to 14. In practice, then, what was an 11th practice squad spot became a 13th spot in 2020.
The catch for an IPP player taking up that extra practice squad slot — and it’s a small one — is that, if the team elects to utilize an extra Practice Squad spot for the player, he has to remain in that slot until the end of the season, and he can’t be added to the active roster at any point during the season. On the other hand, if the Practice Squad remains at its normal size (12 players in 2021) or if the Pathway player is on the 53-man roster, then he is treated like any other player.
The program was started in 2017. By attracting and developing non-traditional football players, the NFL is investing in the program and hoping foreign players can attain success in the hope of growing the league’s international fanbase. The program is open to non-U.S. and Canadian athletes with no high school football experience.
The players who join the NFL under the IPP in a year are all added to the same division. The program is part of an effort to engage fans from other countries and give them a rooting interest in the NFL.
As part of the NFL’s IPP program, IPP candidates work out at the IMG Academy in Florida before being chosen for a team. This year, Washington was in attendance at the March 31 workout, despite not being part of the IPP program. The coaches and front office were so impressed by what they saw from Sammis Reyes that they didn't allow him to enter the league via the IPP program, instead "poaching" him by offering him a standard player contract to attend training camp in Ashburn and compete for a roster spot as part of the team's thin TE group.
Washington will still be looking for help at the position in the draft with one of its 8 draft picks. The draft begins on Thursday, April 29th.