International men of mystery

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Teams have filled all but a handful of spots on their practice squads, with one potentially confusing change this season. You've probably heard about "international" practice-squad players. The league has compelled teams to carry international players as part of efforts to expand its scope beyond traditional borders, but every practice-squad player is not the same.

Each team can sign eight players to its practice squad. International players do not count against these limits because teams cannot sign them to their active rosters. Non-international practice-squad players are relevant because teams can sign them to their 53-man rosters and make them active on game days.

For example, the 49ers signed fullback Zak Keasey from their practice squad to the active roster in September last season. The Cardinals signed tight end Ben Patrick from their practice squad to the active roster in October. The Seahawks signed David Kirtman from their practice squad to their active roster in November. The Rams signed practice-squad quarterback Todd Bouman to their active roster in December. Etc.

International practice-squad players simply practice without any shot at joining active rosters or playing in games this season. One such player, Rolando Cantu of Mexico, played in an NFL game following a season in the international program. He was on the field for one special-teams snap with Arizona.

The league assigned 16 international players to teams in the AFC North, AFC West, NFC South and NFC West this season.

Note: The international program is not new, but the league has expanded it to include 16 players on 16 teams this season.