In 2017, the NFL instituted the International Pathway Program to make it easier for players from abroad to enter the league. The idea is a simple one: players will get professional training opportunities to recommend themselves to the 32 organizations before the start of free agency. Should they not be signed to a contract, they will be added to teams in a randomly picked division and get a chance to compete for a roster spot.
Holding a roster exemption that allows the selected four teams to carry 91 instead of 90 players, the IPP-players are subsequently able to participate in spring practices, training camp, and preseason before roster cutdown day. The goal is for them to eventually make a 53-man roster or practice squad, but if they don’t, teams could get a practice squad exemption — even though they are ineligible to be activated in-season — if they add them.
The New England Patriots are no strangers to this process.
The AFC East was randomly chosen by the league as the division to host the pathway players last year, and the reigning world champions were assigned German-born fullback Jakob Johnson. While initially a long shot to make the roster, the 24-year-old impressed the team enough to be signed to the practice squad without an exemption — allowing him to eventually join the active team at a later point during the season.
Ahead of Week 3 and with James Develin being placed on injured reserve, Johnson was indeed activated to the 53-man roster. Before he too was moved to IR because of a shoulder injury, he appeared in four games for the team and registered one catch for five yards while also playing 32 snaps on offense and an additional 10 in the kicking game. Even though his season ended on the reserve list, the pathway program proved to be a success for himself and the Patriots.
Now, the search for the next Jakob Johnson has begun. Earlier this week, the NFL announced the participants of 2020’s Pathway Program: the nine players from eight countries will showcase their talents over the next three months in the hopes of signing a free agency deal, or making it to the one division selected at random (the teams therein can choose who they add to their offseason roster, so the next weeks will be important).
Let’s take a look at the participating players:
NFL International Pathway Program 2020
|Isaac Alarcon||Offensive tackle||Mexico|
|Otavio Amorim||Offensive tackle||Brazil|
|David Bada||Defensive end||Germany|
|Leo Krafft||Tight end||Norway|
|Boqiao Li||Defensive end||China|
|Chris Mulumba||Defensive end||Finland|
|Sandro Platzgummer||Running back||Austria|
|Antoni Podgorski||Wide receiver||Poland|
|Bernhard Seikovits||Tight end||Austria|
While the nine men should not be expected to find the same success Johnson had this season, the 24-year-old showed that the Pathway Program can indeed uncover developmental talent capable of making it in the NFL. Needless to say that the Patriots will play attention.