Just days after being cut by the San Francisco 49ers Lawrence Okoye has a new NFL home, this time with the Arizona Cardinals. Okoye was signed to the Cardinals 10 man practice squad, and has a real chance of pushing for playing time with the NFC West team.
Final cuts are always tough, especially for players like Lawrence Okoye. Prior to signing with the San Francisco 49ers, the Croydon lad had never played a down in an American Football game at any level. Not in College, not in High School. Although he was the British record holder in discus, and an Olympic finalist in 2012, Okoye gave up his track and field career to pursue the gridiron.
He went undrafted in 2013—exactly as he expected—but the San Francisco 49ers saw enough to give him a shot at making their roster. Unfortunately for Okoye, he was injured during the preseason, and spent his first season on Injured Reserve. In 2014, he had his first real shot, and was good enough to make the 49ers practice squad.
In 2015, he hoped to make the jump to the active roster. He impressed in preseason, but his hopes were dashed when he was cut by the 49ers during their first round of roster cuts.
It was always going to be a long shot for someone like Okoye, but many analysts and commentators believed he had a shot at making the 53 man roster in San Francisco, even if only as a backup.
Indeed, in cutting Okoye, 49ers coach Jim Tomsula seemed to imply that he was doing so earlier to give Okoye a shot at making another teams roster.
“Lawrence hasn’t played a lot of football,” Tomsula told a press conference announcing the cuts.
“When you have a guy in that situation, it gives him a better opportunity [to find a team]. I will say what he’s done in two-and-a-half years is remarkable.”
Okoye was not added to anyone elses 53 man roster, but will have another shot at making it in the NFL as part of the Arizona Cardinals Practice Squad.
Players on the practice squad are paid by their team, but can be promoted to the active roster of any team. Once promoted, they receive at least three weeks on the 53-man roster (though they can technically be cut before that, they will still be paid as if they were part of the full roster for three weeks).
Several practice squad players have received playing time in Arizona in recent years, including Kerwynn Williams—who will be on the Cardinals practice squad with Okoye again this season—who made the most of his chance, rushing for over 100 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs in 2014.
Although it is possible that the Cardinals have added Okoye primarily for the information he brings them about their division rivals the 49ers, who they will play twice this season, including in just three times, he will nonetheless get to train with one of the best-coached teams in the NFL. The Cardinals do lack some depth at defensive end, after losing Darnell Dockett to the 49ers during the offseason, and though they have several young players who fit the mould, none of them completely shone during preseason, and in the event of an injury to either starter, Okoye could find himself with a shot at promotion.
The Defensive Line has become an area of the field where several British born players have made an impact over recent years. Fellow Londoner Jack Crawford made Dallas Cowboys 53 man roster, and is currently backup at both defensive end and tackle, and is expected to get some regular playing time. Nigerian born Efe Obada, who grew up homeless in London, the victim of human trafficking, and played for the London Warriors did not make the Cowboys 53 man roster, but is expected to be added to a practice squad somewhere in the coming days.
Okoye still has a lot of learning to do in the NFL, but there are few better places to do it than with the Arizona Cardinals.
After just two-and-a-half years playing football at any level, that Okoye is even on an NFL practice squad is a huge achievement for the London Born player. That he was so quickly added by the 2014 NFL head coach of the year, and one of the best GM’s in the business speaks of just how far he has come in such a short time.