Former Wasps winger Christian Wade is embarking upon his second season on the Buffalo Bills practice squad having quit rugby union in October 2018.
The 29-year-old was poised to become Premiership rugby’s leading tryscorer when he made the shock decision to take up a new sport and was swiftly picked up by the Bills.
Having shot to the forefront of Bills supporters minds with a touchdown in his first pre-season game last summer, he remains on their practice squad for another season as they decided not to bring him into their 53-man active roster.
To explain the Wade situation in full, CoventryLive rugby writer Bobby Bridge put the key questions to Buffalo Bills writer Bradley Gelber (BG) from USA Today/TheBillsWire….
BB: How has Covid-19 impacted Christian Wade’s chances of making the Bills’ 53-man roster?
BG: “I don’t think this was a year he was ever really going to have a chance to make the team. This is a unique situation for a guy to come in who has a lot of raw physical ability and learn the game of football and make up for the 20-plus years where he didn’t have playing the way most of these guys did growing up playing the game.
“By them giving Christian those two exempt years on the practice squad, that was always going to be the plan, even though he had that amazing pre-season last year. That’s a good thing to mention, there was no pre-season this year at all, no pre-season games were played. Training camp was completely changed.
“They were forced to do them at their home facilities. Some teams go away to other cities for training camp, the Bills traditionally go to Rochester in New York, which is about an hour east of Buffalo. This year they had to stay in Buffalo as mandated by the NFL. Training camp was much different with all the testing.
“If Christian was going to have any chance of making the actual team, he would’ve needed a monumental pre-season like he had last year, even better this year. So since there was no pre-season games, that pretty much ended any chance of him making the actual team this year.
“But I don’t think that was ever really the intention. I think they were always going to use those two years of exempt status for him to allow him to learn the game as much as possible.”
BB: How has the news of Wade’s release, then placing in the practice squad, been received? Is there much interest at all?
BG: “People are still keeping tabs on him. I don’t think it’s nearly the same story as it was last year, only because he was a brand-new player at the time and the intrigue was a lot different. Couple that with those two big runs he had, last year in the pre-season and the hype around him, he was a fan favourite. Not that he isn’t any more but, like any story over time, it fades.
“People are still very high on him, I remember even this year, people on Twitter asking if there was any update on him in training camp. I think he was out for a couple of practices in training camp with minor injuries and things like that, and people are enquiring about that. When he was released, that’s merely a formality to get on the practice squad even in his exempt status, you have to be released from the regular roster to be able to get placed onto the practice squad.
“When he was released, some fans who probably aren’t as familiar with that procedure were upset. They didn’t realise that was just a formality to get placed on the practice squad. I’d say there’s still interest in him but, over time it does fade a little bit.”
BB: The Bills May have decided Wade isn’t for them this year, but can another NFL team swoop in and sign him? Under any circumstances could he play NFL for the Bills this season?
BG: “The same thing as last year, because of that exempt status that he has through the International Pathway Programme, he is only allowed to play on the Bills practice squad.
“Since he is placed in this exempt spot, that’s another change this year from the NFL, is, practice squads this year you are allowed 16 players and they’ve expanded them from other years because of coronavirus. In the event that players are testing positive, they want to have a bigger pool to choose from. So teams are allowed 16 players now.
“The Bills get 17 because of Wade’s exempt spot, so he’s not eligible to be called up like the other players are, but he is going to be a full participant on the practice squad. He will practice with the other players, he will do film study that sort of thing, he just isn’t eligible to get called up this year and no other NFL team is able to sign him.”
BB: Now aged 29, how do you foresee the Christian Wade to NFL story will go?
BG: “It’s a very good question and it’s very hard to tell. He’s only one year so far playing professional football which is still pretty wild to think that he’s even on an NFL roster. I know that’s kind of the point of this programme is to allow international players who don’t have the same background a chance.
“I am really interested to see what he continues to learn. From all accounts, from the things I’ve seen and read and heard from other players, he’s made quite a jump in the one year that he was with the organisation.
“If he continues to grind it out, I still think, because of his natural ability and the talent, the speed, the physicality, the things he excelled in during his rugby days, I think that he has a chance to be an impactful NFL player. More on the special teams side. As a kick returner, as a punt returner, I don’t know if he will ever slot in as an every down running back which is his technical NFL position.
“It’s just a really interesting story and so hard to gauge at this point. I think what he continues to grow and learn this year will go a long way into what happens to him next year.
“Next year, basically what can happen is, there’s no more exempt status. So, he can still go to the practice squad, the same as these first two years, but, he would be one of those spots that has the potential of getting called up. Which also means he is no longer protected from other teams.
“The way the practice squad in the NFL works traditionally is, you have to pass something called waivers, which the 31 other teams in the NFL have a chance to sign you after training camp if you’re cut from the team.
“The other 31 teams have a chance. If they don’t, and you’re eligible based on different requirements, you can be placed on the practice squad, which is what happens at that point, but at that point, any NFL team is free to sign you to their regular roster.
“Next year, for whatever reason they decide they don’t want him on the roster, they want to try and put him back on the practice squad, he clears waivers, he makes the Bills practice squad, but then three weeks into the season, another team has a spot open up and they say ‘hey, we think this guy is ready to play in the NFL, let’s sign him’, they can then sign him to their active roster. They can’t just bring him over to their practice squad. He would be on their 53-man roster.
“Next year that’s going to be really interesting. If the Bills feel they are at risk of losing him to another team, they might be forced to put him on the active roster even if he is not a starter. He’s not going to contribute that much just because they want to continue to develop him. It’s really interesting and hard to gauge, but, it should continue to be a good story.”
BB: What are the Buffalo Bills hopes and expectations for the new NFL season?
BG: “I guess it depends who you ask. If you ask any of the players or coaches themselves, they’re going to tell you, the same as every year, their goal is to win the Super Bowl. I’ve written a piece for my predictions for the season, and honestly I think they have a really good shot to win the division this year. They’ve made the play-offs two of the last three years as a wildcard team.
“It has been a very, very, very long time since they won the division, and now that Tom Brady is down at Tampa Bay, this is really an opportunity. They have by far the best team in the division, so this is their chance to win the division.
“Then the next hurdle is to actually win a play-off game which is also been an extremely long time since the Bills have won a play-off game. Even though they’ve been there two of the last three years. I think there’s a good chance of that.
“So what I said in my piece was they will win the division and I think they will win their first play-off game in a very long time. I am not ready to say they are true Super Bowl contenders at this point. I think they have another year until that is a possibility. I think Josh Allen needs to take another step to show he is ready to be one of the top-tier quarterbacks in the league. But their defence is one of the best in the NFL, they’ve added a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball. They traded for Stefon Digs, they drafted some really talented rookie wide receivers. They added a rookie running back which is Wade’s position in Zack Moss.
“They have a talented second year running back in Devon Singletary. They also have just continued to plug in holes on this roster and add depth. I think this is going to be a good year for them, hopefully and we will see what happens!”