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Former Welsh Rugby Star Signs With Superbowl-Winning Kansas City Chiefs

Staff writer, Saoirse Byrne, comments on the transition of Welsh Rugby Player, Louis Rees-Zammit into the NFL upon his recent transfer to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Former Welsh rugby star Louis Rees-Zammit makes a big step in his transition from Rugby Union to American Football, signing a three-year deal with the current Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. 

The 23-year old announced in January that he was putting aside his rugby career to pursue a dream of playing in the NFL – a shock to many, especially considering the upward trajectory of Rees-Zammit’s rugby career leading up to his departure. After becoming Gloucester Rugby’s youngest ever Premiership player in 2019, he went on to become one of the most promising young stars of Welsh rugby, scoring 14 tries in 32 games since his first international call-up in 2020. A year later he was invited to play with the British and Irish Lions, a test team made up of the best players from England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, placing him among some of the best rugby players in the world.

Rees-Zammit’s decision to leave his bright rugby future behind in favour of a sport he had previously never played may have been risky, but his speed and athleticism made him an attractive prospect for the NFL’s International Player Pathway (IPP) program, established in 2017 with the aim of bringing elite international athletes into the league. Nicknamed ‘Rees Lightning’, the Welshman’s speed is his most notable asset, clocking in at over 24mph in some games; this makes him faster than Miami Dolphins’ wide receiver Tyreek ‘Cheetah’ Hill, who is generally considered to be the fastest man in the NFL. 

Despite a slightly underwhelming – though by no means bad – performance at the IPP Pro Day, Rees-Zammit caught the eye of several top NFL teams, eventually securing a contract with the Kansas City Chiefs as a running back, where he’ll be in the company of some of the biggest names in the game, including record-breaking quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and wide receiver Travis Kelce, known for his successes on and off the field.

Rees-Zammit is by no means guaranteed a spot on the Chiefs roster; there’s a chance he still may never see a minute of playing time in the NFL. Though he may have an undeniably impressive sporting career combined with powerful athleticism that rivals some of the best in the game, there will be a steep learning curve involved in picking up the new rules, plays, and language of the game, with American Football being likened more to chess in the complex strategies involved with each play. 

In a league full of experienced players, it remains to be seen whether Rees-Zammit will be able to find his own way, with some arguing that his signing may be more about the Chiefs looking to build their international franchise and sell shirts rather than a real desire to get him on the field. New kickoff rules being introduced for the 24/25 NFL season could, however, work in the rookie’s favour, since kick returns are likely to become much more frequent – something Rees-Zammit should be comfortable with considering his rugby experience.

Though there is much uncertainty around how Rees-Zammit’s NFL career may pan out, there is one undeniable benefit to the move: money. Average NFL salaries eclipse even top level rugby salaries: the highest rugby salary in 2024 stands at the equivalent of $1.3 million per season, with the average UK Premiership player earning much less – around £170,000. Average NFL salaries, by contrast, stand at around $2.8 million, with the highest paid player (Cincinnati Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow) earning $55 million per season. Though Rees-Zammit’s NFL dreams may be founded in a love of the game, it’s hard not to assume that the steep pay rise may have made his risky move much more enticing.

Wales’ loss may be Kansas City’s gain, but only time will tell whether the young star’s bold move will pay off, or if he will fizzle into obscurity on both sides of the Atlantic. Regardless, it will be interesting to see how Rees-Zammit progresses as he settles into his new home at the Arrowhead Stadium throughout the 2024/25 season.

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