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NFL expands practice squads for 2024 to incentivize international player signings

FOXBOROUGH, MA - SEPTEMBER 10: An NFL shield logo is painted on the field prior to an NFL football game between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles at Gillette Stadium on September 10, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)
The NFL is looking to add more international players. (Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)

The NFL is a hard league to make. With 53 spots on the active roster, landing on a practice squad can represent a major opportunity. In 2024, the league will give all 32 teams one extra practice squad spot for an international player, according to an announcement Wednesday.

Practice squads currently max out at 16 players, and the additional spot will come as part of the NFL's International Pathway Program which launched in 2017. All AFC West and NFC North teams were already given an additional practice squad player as part of the program.

When the expansion reaches the rest of the league next year, each team will be allowed to call up its international practice squad player to the active roster a maximum of three times throughout the season. In addition to the development opportunity, teams will get a training camp roster exemption for a qualifying player.

"The game grows and improves with global talent from around the world who inspire the next generation in their home nation," Troy Vincent, NFL executive vice president of football operations said in the announcement. "This League-wide initiative paves the way for more international athletes to demonstrate that football has a place for everyone."

To be deemed an international player for the exemption, an athlete's primary residence needs to be outside the United States and Canada. The NFL's International Player Pathway program does its own scouting of prospects outside North America, but clubs can also sign players they find on their own.

Thirty-seven players within that criteria have signed with NFL teams since the program was established and 19 of them are currently signed, with five making active rosters.

Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Jordan Mailata is from Australia and is potentially the most well-known IPP alumni on an active roster. Washington Commanders defensive end Efe Obada (UK), Las Vegas Raiders fullback Jakob Johnson (Germany), Washington Commanders defensive lineman David Bada (Germany) and former tight end Sammis Reyes (Chile) also made active rosters this season. Reyes retired last month.

Mailata is in his sixth season and issued a statement about the league's most recent effort.

"The International Player Pathway program changed my life and I'm very thankful for the opportunity it has provided me," he wrote. "The program shows so many young athletes around the world that playing in the NFL can be a reality. Expanding the program to see all 32 teams able to sign an international player to their practice squad will only continue to help make our sport better, more diverse and more competitive."