Smith, who was born in Australia and played college basketball in the United States, is attempting to fulfill his dream of playing in the National Football League, despite very limited experience playing with pads on.
After playing college basketball in a small college near Denver, Hayden Smith took up rugby and quickly become a hot commodity, getting selected for the U.S. national team and eventually a top English rugby club.
Now, he’s leaving that all behind to embark on a journey to the gridiron, a sport very seldom played or even noticed on the other side of the globe.
At an imposing 6’6, 255 lbs, Smith has the size and the athleticism that he hopes will help him become an NFL tight end, one of the more nuanced and complex positions to learn at any level of football, much less the NFL.
However, Hayden Smith did not come to the Jets just to see if he can do it. He intends to do it, no matter what it takes.
“I came into this wanting to be successful, not, ‘Oh, we’ll see what happens,’” Smith said. “I’m 100 percent committed to football. It’s something that I desperately wanted to do.”
It may be a little unrealistic to expect Smith to make an immediate impact in his rookie season, but the Jets may be able to apply for a special international player exemption for their eight-man practice squad.
Normally, when a player is on the practice squad, he is essentially a de facto free agent and can be signed to the active roster of any NFL team.
However, if Hayden Smith is granted an international player exemption, he may be able to be placed on the practice squad without taking up an official spot, and without being able to be poached by another team.
If the NFL grants the Jets that exemption, they can essentially carry Smith for free, other than his actual salary of course. He wouldn’t take up a roster spot, and the Jets would retain his exclusive rights for three years.
As he develops under an NFL coaching staff, he hopes to eventually become an impact player in the league someday. It’s certainly an interesting low-risk, high-reward signing for the Jets, and one worth keeping tabs on.
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