Louis Rees-Zammit has made a surprising decision to leave rugby and pursue his NFL dreams. This unexpected move has caused Wales to delay announcing their Six Nations squad.
Rees-Zammit is wasting no time, as he is already preparing to travel to Florida on Friday.
Louis Rees-Zammit surprised even Wales’ head coach, Warren Gatland, by informing him only an hour before the squad announcement about his abrupt decision. Now, the big question is how difficult it will be for him to succeed in his new NFL venture.
About the IPP Program
The IPP program helps foreign football players reach the NFL. It started in 2017 and gives international athletes a shot at NFL success. They can start on an NFL practice squad before making it to the season roster. The expansion of this program in September was seen as a significant move by Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Joel Glazer to bring global talent into the NFL.
What Is Included in the IPP Program
In terms of what the IPP entails, players undergo a rigorous 10-week training camp at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The days can begin as early as 05:00 and involve a combination of studying the sport and honing their skills. After this, players are assessed through the annual NFL International Combine, which includes various tests like the bench press, 40-yard dash, and shuttle drills. They also get the opportunity to showcase their abilities in front of team scouts at a pro day hosted at the University of South Florida before the NFL Draft.
Louis Rees-Zammit is known for his extraordinary athleticism, with Wales coach Gatland calling him a «freak» for his physical skills. Phoebe Schecter, a former Buffalo Bills coach, highlighted his impressive speed, quickness, athleticism, and height of 6ft 3. She also highlighted the importance of a competitive mindset and mental toughness when transitioning to the NFL, acknowledging that Rees-Zammit will need to start from scratch.
In terms of the positions he could potentially play in the NFL, Schecter suggested roles like receiver or special team positions, particularly as a returner, where his speed and size could be advantageous for making impactful plays with the ball.
Prospects for Success
Players like Louis Rees-Zammit give up their rugby contracts and potential earnings in tournaments like the Six Nations to pursue NFL opportunities. If selected, practice squad members in 2023 could earn $216,000 (£170,700) during the regular season, with NFL contracts offering even greater financial rewards. For example, quarterback Joe Burrow signed a record-breaking $275 million (£217 million) deal with the Cincinnati Bengals over five years, setting an NFL salary record.
The IPP program had its most successful year in the previous season, with eight of 38 original athletes earning NFL roster spots for 2023. So far, 37 international players from various countries, including Nigeria, Germany, and Tonga, have joined NFL teams through the program. Efe Obada and Jordan Mailata, who came from different sports, successfully moved into the NFL as notable IPP graduates.
American Football after Rugby
Louis Rees-Zammit might become the first British rugby player to play in an NFL game, although others like Paul Thorburn, Christian Wade, Christian Scotland-Williamson, and Alex Gray attempted before without making regular season appearances. Lawrence Okoye, a former Team GB discus thrower, had a longer NFL stint but ultimately returned to athletics.
Should Rees-Zammit’s NFL journey not pan out, Wales coach Gatland assures he’d be welcome back in rugby, emphasizing the importance of seizing professional sports opportunities and expressing support for a potential return to the sport.