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NFL to Expand International Practice Squad Player Program

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NFL International Pittsburgh Christian Scotland-Williamson
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end and former rugby player Christian Scotland-Williamson, June 12, 2019. -- Alan Saunders / Steelers Now

The NFL is expanding its international player pathway program to include all 32 NFL teams, starting in 2024, the league announced on Wednesday.

The program has been in existence since 2017, allowing teams from certain divisions, on a rotating basis, to have an extra player on the practice squad, as long as that player was not from the United States or Canada.

From 2017 to 2022, one division per season participated in the program. This year, two divisions are. Since the start of the program, 37 international players have gone on to sign with NFL teams, including Eagles offensive lineman Jordan Mailata.

The Steelers participated in the program in 2018, when they signed former English rugby star Christian Scotland-Williamson. Williamson spent the entire 2018 and 2019 seasons on the Steelers’ practice squad, but was never elevated to the active roster and was released in July 2020.

RELATED: Steelers Interview: Ex-Rugby Player Christian Scotland-Williamson

Beginning in 2024, all 32 NFL teams will have the option of signing a 17th player to their practice squad as part of the program. The player is also exempt from the 90-man offseason roster limit, so teams with an international player will bring 91 to training camp. Participation is not mandatory.

“The practice squad roster expansion for international players will further contribute to our goal of building a sustainable pathway to the NFL for elite global athletes, while also creating local connections with fans around the world,” said NFL vice president Peter O’Reilly.

The Steelers have one foreign-born player on their roster currently, right tackle Chuks Okorafor. Two of the Steelers’ all-time greats were born in other countries: kicker Gary Anderson (South Africa) and wide receiver Hines Ward (South Korea).

The NFL has been focused on international growth in recent years, allowing clubs to expand their international marketing presence and playing games in more foreign countries than ever before.

There will be a record-tying five international games played in 2023, with three in London and two in Munich, Germany. The NFL also has a long-term plan to return to play in Mexico City, where construction has closed Estadio Azteca this season.
The Steelers have international marketing agreements in both Mexico, where the club is one of the most popular teams, and Ireland, where the Rooney family has significant ties. Former Steelers chairman Dan Rooney was also United States Ambassador to Ireland.

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