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Louis Rees-Zammit: What would signing for NFL team mean? Where could he go?

Louis Rees-Zammit in action for Wales
Louis Rees-Zammit won 32 caps for Wales in rugby union before making the switch to the NFL [Getty Images]

Former Wales rugby star Louis Rees-Zammit has this week been talking to Super Bowl champions the Kansas City Chiefs as he tries to find an NFL team willing to sign him for next season.

In a shock move, the 23-year-old quit rugby on the eve of this year's Six Nations tournament to pursue a career in American football.

He has taken part in the 2024 NFL international player pathway (IPP), a 10-week crash course designed to teach players the required skills to succeed in the NFL.

But even if he were to sign for an NFL team, he would not be guaranteed to start a competitive match.

What would signing for a team mean?

NFL franchises are allowed to have up to 90 players during the off-season but, as the start of each season approaches, that number is whittled down to a roster of 53 for the regular season.

Those who miss out are either cut from the team entirely, or placed on a franchise's practice squad.

Players who come through the IPP often begin their NFL careers on practice squads, and few have ever progressed to holding down a starting role for a significant length of time.

The best examples of those who have come through the IPP are Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jordan Mailata and Washington Commanders defensive end Efe Obada.

In 2024, for the first time, all 32 NFL teams will be given an additional roster spot on their practice squads specifically for players who have come through the IPP, which could be of benefit to Rees-Zammit.

Teams who have an IPP player on the practice squad will also be allowed to promote the player to the final active 53-man squad, without taking up a space, up to three times during the season.

Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jordan Mailata
Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jordan Mailata was part of the 2018 IPP and has played 62 games for the franchise [Getty Images]

Which teams are interested in Rees-Zammit?

After finishing the IPP, Rees-Zammit showcased his skills at University of South Florida's Pro Day, with scouts from all NFL teams in attendance.

He has since had meetings with the New York Jets, the Cleveland Browns, the Denver Broncos and most recently Super Bowl champions the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Chiefs are the most eye-catching of those teams, thanks to their recent success of three Super Bowl wins in the past five years, plus Taylor Swift fans as a result of her relationship with player Travis Kelce.

The 'Swift effect' has seen the sport - and in particular the Chiefs - attract an increased audience of young women, reportedly boosting the brand value of the NFL and the Chiefs by $331m (£260m).

How much money could Rees-Zammit make?

Even if Rees-Zammit does not make a 53-man roster, he would earn a considerable amount of money by signing for an NFL team.

Last season, players on a practice squad had a yearly salary of £170,700 - just under £10,000 for each of the 18 weeks of the regular season.

That figure goes up if players have multiple years of experience, and increases significantly if they can secure a spot in a franchise's 53-man roster.

In 2023, the minimum salary for first-year players was close to £600,000.

Even the salary of a practice squad player exceeds what most rugby players in the English Premiership would earn.

A report from 2022 showed the average salary in the league during the 2020-21 season was a little under £144,000 a year, and due to salary caps that figure will not have drastically increased since.

Premiership clubs unanimously agreed to cut the salary cap to £5m in the summer of 2020 in response to the financial fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, but it is set to return to £6.4m next season.

What position would he play?

Rees-Zammit has targeted a hybrid role in the NFL, combining the running back and wide receiver positions.

The hybrid role is one played by very few players in the NFL, with Deebo Samuel of the San Francisco 49ers one of the best.

Deebo Samuel in action in the Super Bowl
Deebo Samuel was part of the San Francisco 49ers team which lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in this year's Super Bowl [Getty Images]

The 28-year-old made 60 catches during the 2023 regular season while also adding 37 rushing attempts as a running back, scoring 12 touchdowns in the process.

Cordarrelle Patterson, Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel are others who have excelled in the hybrid role in the NFL in recent years.

No IPP player has been able to lock down a starting role at either position in the NFL to date, but Rees-Zammit has another option which could prove his best chance of seeing regular-season action.

Rule changes have been put in place on a one-year trial basis in 2024 in an attempt to encourage teams to return more kick-offs.

Kick and punt returners rely on their speed and agility to try give their team the best possible starting position on the field.

But returners must also know when it is best to signal for a fair catch, much like a mark in rugby union, if under too much pressure from onrushing defenders.

Rees-Zammit's agility, speed - which tested at a good level for an NFL wide receiver - and rugby experience of catching high balls could give him the tools to be an asset in this role.

When will we see Rees-Zammit on the field?

Before rosters are cut to 53 players, every team in the NFL plays a series of pre-season games, where fringe players are given a chance to shine and stake their claim for a roster spot.

It is during these pre-season games that Rees-Zammit would be likely to run out for an NFL franchise should he be signed.

And should he shine, the Welshman would not be the first rugby star to make a name for himself.

In 2019, former England rugby union wing Christian Wade scored a 65-yard touchdown with his first touch on his debut for the Buffalo Bills in a pre-season game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Despite that impressive touchdown, Wade would never play in the regular season for Buffalo, and instead spent three years on the franchise's practice squad.

Wade has warned Rees-Zammit to expect some "lonely" times in the NFL, and told the former Wales wing he would be happy to share any advice if wanted.

And as fate should have it, as Rees-Zammit leaves Premiership side Gloucester for his shot in the NFL, Wade has agreed to join the Cherry and Whites for the start of next season.