The New York Jets made a surprise signing this offseason, inking Australian rugby player Hayden Smith to a three-year deal.
Smith has no football experience and has been playing rugby in England for a few seasons, and he also represented the USA in the World Cup of Rugby in 2011.
Smith is a freak athlete. He is 6'6" and 250lbs of solid muscle who knows what he can bring to the table as a tight end of a National Football League team. Since a rugby Union player has never before played professional American football besides at a kicking position, it will be interesting to see what happens once Smith takes the field.
And if Hayden Smith is successful, how can he change football as we know it?
The sports of American football and rugby (both Union and League variations) are quite different. However, both sports require a similar body type.
These athletes are huge and are solid muscle, possessing great physical power.
If Hayden Smith is successful, what is going to stop other NFL teams from looking at rugby talent internationally? What if there is a 17-year-old kid in South Africa who is destined to become a rugby star? He is tall and strong and could make a great middle linebacker or defensive end, or even halfback or tight end like Hayden Smith. If this player was introduced to the game of American football, who knows what kind of an impact he could make on the sport.
Why would a young rugby player even want to play a foreign sport in America he has never heard of?
The top rugby leagues in the world play in smaller countries such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Despite great fan support, the potential TV audience isn't very large and therefore revenue isn't overly high.
This is comparable to the CFL. Some CFL teams such as the Edmonton Eskimos draw larger crowds than some NFL teams, but then why can't CFL teams afford NFL salaries and better players? Because due to a huge TV deal, the NFL makes billions of dollars a year. Playing in Canada, a country of 30 million, there simply aren't enough people watching to bring in that level of television revenue.
The National Rugby Leagues in Australia and New Zealand are considered the best leagues in the world. Players make around the same as CFL or UFL players. Wouldn't you be willing to make well over five times more money in another country playing a new sport? Maybe not all rugby players would go for it, but the chance to make a lot more money may be enough to draw some young rugby talent away for the chance to be a superstar in America.
This could mean a flood of rugby players from around the world trying out for NFL teams. Could this mean years from now if players converting from rugby to football is a success that we could see a league full of Australians, South Africans and Europeans?
If Hayden Smith were to become a successful player, this could bring in tons of viewers internationally. The NFL could get huge media attention in rugby-crazy countries like Australia, South Africa or England, as one of their own tries out American football and tears it up.
Think if one of our NFL stars went to play rugby and was very successful at the highest level? Would you not be slightly interested? Look at the media attention Chad Johnson brought to Sporting Kansas City of the MLS when he wanted to play soccer if the case of an NFL lockout.
The chances of Hayden Smith being a success and changing football as we know it could obviously be a huge over-exaggeration and most likely will not occur, but this could be the beginning of a large change in the NFL.
Rugby players may begin trying out for NFL teams regularly for higher paychecks and more international viewers may begin to tune in to see their players trying the American game. Maybe we might see a day where teams have international players in many positions, as rugby-playing kids around the world look to American football as an option to live their dreams of becoming professional athletes.
The possibilities are endless. Let's see what Hayden Smith can do.