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The International Player Pathway program pays off for the Redskins

The Redskins’ 91st roster spot goes to a player from Germany

Several months into the RivEra, the Redskins are entering new territory by signing a player under the International Player Pathway program.

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 will be eight players from the program and one of them will play with the Redskins.

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 month there was a report that the program was being expanded to eight players in 2020, and that kickers are now eligible under the program, while they had been previously excluded.

There are special rules under the Pathway program that make it appealing for the team.

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 will be 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 2020) 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. Here’s a recap of the short history of the progam:

2017 NFC South

2018 AFC North

2019 AFC East

As you can see, this isn’t a distinguished list of All-Pros. The program is part of an effort to engage fans from other countries and give them a rooting interest in the NFL. I can tell you anecdotally that it has some effect. The teacher whose office is opposite mine is an Australian, and he was very excited when Valentine Holmes was signed by the Jets a year ago. Holmes was a talented Rugby League player, and Marc (the Aussie teacher) used to give me regular updates on what he was reading about Holmes in the Aussie newspapers, and asking me weekly about his chances of making the Jets roster. Marc’s expectations were buoyed somewhat by having seen Jordan Mailata get drafted by the Eagles in 2018 and enjoy relative success. After his year in the IPP program, Holmes returned to Oz and the Queensland Cowboys in the NRL, while Mailata spent last season on the Eagles roster, and seems to be an important part of their plans going forward.

The Redskins will be adding DE David Bada, who, I imagine, will be pretty damned thrilled to be on the same team and in the same position room as Chase Young. The 6’5″, 300-pound Bada, a native of Munich, Germany spent the past two seasons anchoring the defensive line for the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns in the German Football League. The Unicorns won the German championship in 2018 and reached the final again in 2019. Prior to that, he had spent three seasons playing for the Ingolstadt Dukes, also in the GFL, after beginning his career with his hometown Munich Cowboys in 2014.

While he has been listed at DE in the articles I have seen, Bada is a big-bodied Defensive Lineman, and in one interview I watched, he said that he is flexible, and plays both DE and DT.

As part of the NFL’s IPP program, he and other candidates worked out at the IMG Academy in Florida before being chosen for a team.

Of course, Ron Rivera has experience with the IPP program from his time in Carolina, where he hosted another defensive end — that one from England — Efe Obada.

Tennessee Titans v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Obada’s story is one of relative success. He was initially added as the 11th player on the practice squad, making him ineligible for the regular roster in 2017, but he signed a futures contract at the end of the ‘17 season, and became the first player from the IPP program to make an NFL 53-man active roster and play in a regular season game. That happened in 2018, and last year, Obada signed a one-year contract with the Panthers, and then got a one-year extension from the team in January, meaning that he’ll be back for a 4th season in the Panther’s training camp whenever the COVID-19 restrictions are eased enough to allow that to happen.

Click to watch Larry Michael interview David Bada

Since the NFL allocates players from the IPP program by division, the other three teams in the NFC East are also getting a 91st player for training camp:

OT Isaac Alarcón is going to the Cowboys, RB Sandro Platzgummer will be a NY Giant and Australian DE Matt Leo will join his countryman Mailata in Eagles training camp.

Players from Brazil, Norway, China, Finland, Poland, and Austria are reported to be among those who may also join the NFL in 2020 under the International Player Pathway program.