New York Jets Sign Australian Rugby Star Hayden Smith to a Three-Year Deal to Play Tight End

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The New York Jets are leaving no stone unturned when it comes to improving their team in 2012.

As if that wasn’t obvious enough after they made the highly-publicized Tim Tebow trade in March, the Jets have gone one step further here in April, even going international on us.

According to sources, the Jets are close to officially announcing a deal with 26-year-old Australian Rugby player Hayden Smith, who they intend to convert into a special teamer and tight end.’s Jake Steinberg was the first to report it via Twitter, and former University of Minnesota head football coach Tim Brewster, who has trained with Smith, has confirmed that report.

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Brewster, a tight ends guru who’s been credited with helping San Diego Chargers star Antonio Gates make the transition from college basketball player to Pro Bowl tight end, has been raving about Smith’s NFL potential.

“The first thing I saw was a kid 6-6, 265 pounds,” Brewster said. “He’s no longer 6-6, 220. I was really amazed at a couple of things. First, his ability to assimilate all the information I was throwing at him. He gets it.”

“Football makes sense to the kid. Second, his work ethic off the charts. He’s a way above average athlete for the position. I think the kid has an outstanding future in the National Football League.”

Unlike most Australian players who come over to the States to try to play in the NFL, Hayden Smith isn’t coming to America completely green.

He played basketball throughout high school and college, playing collegiately at Metropolitan State College in Denver, a Division II NCAA program where Brewster first noticed him.

Smith only started playing rugby in 2008, and he played on the U.S. national team that same year. He’s been playing for a European pro rugby team called Saracens since 2009.

However, it appears that Smith, who turns 27 on April 10, is ready to leave rugby behind to begin an American football career.

“To play in the NFL would undoubtedly be the pinnacle of my career,” Smith said. “I will do whatever it takes to make my dream a reality.”

Brewster, who worked first-hand with Gates and other basketball players turned tight ends, thinks that Hayden Smith has the physical tools and the knowledge of the game to make a big impact in the NFL.

“He is going to be a true, three-down player in the [NFL],” Brewster said. “He’s going to do a great job blocking the line of scrimmage on run down situations and then he’s going to also have the ability to stretch the field and do some things in the passing game that are really unique. And he has outstanding hands.”

Brewster is not ready to proclaim Smith as the next Gates, but he is excited about his raw potential, and many NFL teams have sought his opinion on Smith over the last few months.

“Every one of them is not going to be Antonio Gates,” said Brewster. “But when you’ve got a guy that has unique athletic ability and just because he hasn’t played football doesn’t mean he can’t.”

“A lot of coaches shy away from guys that haven’t played the game because it is an exhausting process. To me, that’s the exciting part. Taking a piece of clay like that, and I am going to tell you Hayden Smith is one beautiful piece of clay, just mold them into what you want him to be.”

While I can’t say I’ve heard a football coach ever refer to a player as a “beautiful piece of clay” before, I bet the Jets coaching staff can’t wait to see what they can mold him into.

I’m not sure how much of an immediate impact Smith will have in the NFL, but he seems like he’s got the raw physical ability to play in this league. With the proper technique, maybe he can be a diamond in the rough.

The Jets are sorely lacking a good blocking tight end, and they didn’t seem to have much interest in former Dallas Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett, who signed with the New York Giants in March.

Maybe Hayden Smith is the piece of clay they need. Tim Brewster certainly thinks he can be, and he’s got a pretty good track record when it comes to tight ends.

I came across this video of Smith working out back in February, which briefly shows him doing NFL drills as part of his training and also talks about his past as a basketball player and rugby star.

It’s certainly an interesting move. No word yet on what kind of a contract he and his agent were looking for. When the deal is official we should have a better idea of what kind of investment the Jets made in him.

Update: According to Smith’s agent, the Aussie has signed a three-year deal with the Jets, with an average salary of $355,000 and about $100,000 guaranteed. A solid low-risk, high-reward signing if you ask me.

I, for one, am excited to see what he can do. He’s in the prime of his athletic career and seems to be serious about playing in the NFL. From all I’ve heard about him so far, I wouldn’t bet against him.


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