The New York Giants on Friday signed a player they hope will become their version of Jordan Mailata, who came through the NFL’s International Player Pathway program to become a starting offensive tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Roy Mbaeteka is a 6-9, 320-pound offensive tackle from Nigeria with no football experience. Yet the Giants, with the help of former Giant Osi Umenyiora, will give Mbaeteka an opportunity.
“Once you see him, you know he’s physically imposing and in a year or two if you immerse him in football culture, he’s going to be fantastic,” Umenyiora said Friday via a release from the Giants. “The Giants took a chance. Not much of a chance, I think. When you see him working, you’re going to know what he’s about.
“He is big, strong, physical, extremely intelligent, very athletic. He’s built to play offensive tackle in the league. In fact, he reminds me quite a bit of Kareem McKenzie (a former tackle who, like Umenyiora, played on the Giants’ Super Bowl XLII and XLVI teams). He has the same temperament. He’s very smart, but he’s a very athletic player.”
The International Player Pathway program (IPP) began in 2017. It aims to provide international athletes would not have a chance to become NFL players, an opportunity to showcase their skills and earn an opportunity to make an NFL roster.
Players can be allocated to practice squads, like Austrian running back Sandro Platzgummer was with the Giants the past two seasons. Teams get exemptions to carry those players on their practice squads. Or, like Mbaeteka, can be signed as free agents.
The Giants will not have a roster exemption for Mbaeteka. He will have to make the roster or practice squad purely on merit.
Umenyiora, who lived in Nigeria as a young boy, now lives in London and was one of the founders of NFL Africa, a branch of the IPP.
Umenyiora first saw Mbaeteka at a camp in Nigeria in May 2021. He was one of three players selected to train at the NFL Academy in London in October. Three months later, he became one of 13 players selected to compete for a spot in the 2022 International Player Pathway program. Mbaeteka spent three months in Arizona working with former NFL center LeCharles Bentley.
“He’s been immersed in football for the last couple of months,” Umenyiora said.
Giants scout Jeremy Breit watched Mbaeteka in Arizona, and he was impressive enough that the team signed him.
“When the Giants brought him in, they took him to the board and drew things and asked him all these questions and he was able to answer them, because that’s what he’s been working on this entire time,” Umenyiora said. “He’s highly intelligent. I guess they were blown away by the fact that he was able to do all that stuff.”
Umenyiora believes Mbaeteka can follow Mailata’s path. Mailata, an Australian native, had no prior football experience when he joined the Eagles. The Eagles selected Mailata in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft, and he saw his first action for them in 2020. He is now their left tackle.
“If you have the physical attributes, you can make that transition rather easily,” Umenyiora said. “And I can tell you in Africa there’s hundreds of thousands of people who have those attributes who just need an opportunity and we’re going to provide it for them.”
Umenyiora praised the Giants for taking a chance.
“A lot of people think this was me, but I had nothing to do with this,” Umenyiora said. “The Giants decided they were going to fly him in. They did this on their own. They saw him, they liked him, they flew him in yesterday, and he blew them away. They offered him a contract and here we are. For it to be the Giants of all teams, it means the world to me, it really does.
“What the Giants have done here is truly hard to put into words. There are so many people in Nigeria and in Africa who are going to see this and right now they’re going to have hope. Before, they were hopeless. They’re going to see this as hope and they’re going to start working and working toward something, however unrealistic it is. At least now, they will see that it is possible. They’ve changed the world, they really have.”