Former England rugby union player Christian Wade has signed for the Buffalo Bills, the team said on Monday.
Wade quit English Premiership rugby side Wasps in October to join the NFL’s International Pathway Program, which offers players from outside of the U.S. a route into the league.
The former winger trained alongside six other International Pathway prospects and fellow draft hopefuls at a camp in Florida and clocked a 4.53 40-yard dash at his pro day in Tampa last week. He joins the NFL as a running back.
Wade, 27, was expected to be up for selection at the NFL draft later this month but has signed as a free agent for the Bills, who finished with a 6-10 record last season.
— NFL UK (@NFLUK) April 8, 2019
Wade only discovered that he had been signed when he spoke to Bills general manager Brandon Beane on the phone on Monday. He joins a roster that includes veteran running backs LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore.
“Who better to learn from?” Wade said. “I’m looking to learn how to survive in the NFL, learn about how they apply themselves and study.”
The Bills, as well as the other three AFC East teams, will each get a roster exemption from the NFL, meaning they’ll get an additional spot on their roster for the 2019 season.
“We’ve been allocated RB Christian Wade as part of the International Player Pathway program,” the Bills tweeted following the announcement.
Wade retired from the English Premiership third on the all-time try scorers list, having scored 82 tries in 130 matches. Despite his consistent try-scoring form, he was continually overlooked for England selection and only received a solitary international Test cap.
Wade is not the first rugby player to join an NFL team. Former rugby union players Christian Scotland-Williamson and Alex Gray joined the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Atlanta Falcons, respectively, through the Pathway Program, while former Australian rugby league star Jordan Mailata was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL draft.
At 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds, Wade is significantly smaller than the rugby players who have previously made the move stateside. Mailata — 6-foot-8, 346 pounds — joined the league as an offensive tackle.
Three other players from the 2019 Pathway Program will also join teams in the AFC East. The New England Patriots, the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins have each been allocated a player for their offseason roster but have yet to announce whom they have received.