Making it to the National Football League is one feat. To make a 53 man roster is another. After an illustrious rugby career and some help from the NFL International Player Pathway program, Buffalo Bills running back Christian Wade is one of the lucky few in America fighting for one of those 53 spots.
Lucky should have an asterisk next to it. While many players might attest to luck as their way to get a foot in the door, it doesn’t cover everyone. Wade had a little luck on his side, but it only took 65 yards to show not only the talent he has as an athlete but the smarts it takes to be a professional football player.
— Christian Wade (@ChristianWade3) August 14, 2019
The physical talent as a ball carrier is there. Ask any U.K. rugby fan. And ask the NFL; after all, they invited Wade to come across the pond to compete.
Wade and the NFL International Player Pathway program
Players in the United States typically follow the traditional path to the pros. The recruiting process takes place in junior high/high school; then it’s three-to-four years at a collegiate program. Once eligible, the player is drafted into the NFL via the annual NFL Draft. Pretty simple. However, that’s not the path for most international players.
Players like Wade, who aren’t U.S. citizens, are eligible to participate in the NFL’s International Player Pathway program. The program is set up by the league to allow international athletes an opportunity to live out their own dream of playing in the NFL.
The International Player Pathway program was instituted in 2017. The NFC South was selected to be the first division to participate in the newly-developed program. Each team was allowed one extra practice squad player to develop one international player. After two successful years of the program, Wade, along with six other athletes from five different countries, had the opportunity to compete for an NFL roster spot this past spring.
This year each AFC East team was allowed one extra spot on their practice squad. Joining Wade at the International Player Pathway Pro Day was Valentine Holmes (Australia), Dural Neto (Brazil), David Bada (Germany), Moubarak Djeri (Germany), Maximo Sanchez (Mexico), and Jakob Johnson (Germany).
Following the pro day, which played host to scouts from all 32 organizations, teams were allowed to sign any participant to a free-agent contract. After none were signed, the Bills, New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, and New York Jets all had the opportunity to sign one player.
The process if Wade gets cut
Cinderella stories are nice. As fans, we almost live for them. Whether or not Wade is that type of story is up to you. But reality needs to trump fantasy when looking for honesty.
Reality is, Wade isn’t ready for a roster spot. At 28 years old, he’s still learning the game of football. As stated previously, he’s proven to be a smart player, learning as much as he has in such a short period. Pair that with all the assets currently in the Buffalo RB room right now, it’s not enough to make the 53 man roster for 2019.
So what happens next? Chances are, Wade is one of the final cuts as general manager Brandon Beane and the rest of the front office trims the roster down to the mandatory 53. If cut, Wade would hit the waiver wire, becoming available to any team willing to bring him onto their own 53-man roster. If he goes unclaimed by any of the other 31 teams, Beane can sign Wade onto that 11th practice squad spot.
Both Buffalo and Wade aren’t out anything by making this move. The Bills get a full year to develop Wade and can free up a roster spot while Wade can stay on with a pro team and learn the ins-and-outs of the NFL. One thing to remember: if Wade is signed on to the 11th spot allocated to the International Player Pathway program, he’s not eligible to sign onto the active roster until after the 2019 season. Regardless if Buffalo needs him or not, Wade wouldn’t be eligible to take one snap this season.
NFL outlook for the former Rugby star
Wade came to the United States with a dream of playing in the NFL. His 65-yard touchdown run against the Colts made that dream a reality. It gave Wade an opportunity to take a deep breathe and go into each and every practice with a new-found confidence that he could compete.
The athletic skill set is there. However, the NFL game isn’t easy. Wade would be one of the first to say it. Reality is, the RB position is much more than making highlight plays. It’s a combination of grinding in between the tackles and a willingness and ability to pass protect all while needing to make that highlight play when your team needs it most.
With a full year under his belt in the NFL, Wade may be ready to prove his worth not only as a running back but also as a special teams contributor. Come training camp in 2020, Wade will be 29 and looking to repeat what he did this Summer.