The Carolina Panthers have signed Canadian kicker Lirim Hajrullahu to a futures contract, per NFL sources.
After impressing in a December workout for the Panthers, beating out veterans — Chandler Catanzaro and Louie Zervos — Carolina has given Hajrullahu another shot for the 2021 season.
Less than a week after signing with Carolina, the Panthers were forced to release Hajrullahu in December due to an issue with his American work visa.
Hajrullahu had the appropriate paperwork when he signed with the Los Angeles Rams for training camp, but it ran out and would have taken at least two weeks to secure proper documentation. By that time, the NFL season was over.
The Rams released Hajrullahu at the end of training camp in August. He was by far the best statistical kicker, but the Rams chose to start the season with Sam Sloman who LA selected in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL draft. Hajrullahu went 10-for-13 in Los Angeles scrimmages while Sloman hit 8-of-13.
The 30-year-old Hajrullahu played in all 18 regular season games with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2019, converting 47-of-55 field goal attempts (85.5 percent) and 26-of-28 single convert attempts (92.8 percent), while averaging 43.1 yards per punt on 106 attempts.
The five-foot-eleven, 205-pounder tied for first in the CFL in field goals made (47), third in scoring (162 points) and sixth in field goal percentage. Hajrullahu earned division all-star honours for the first time in Hamilton and second time in his career (2016 and 2019).
Born in Kosovo, Hajrullahu and his family fled the region when he was a nine-year-old as Serbian forces attacked their town. More than a million ethnic Albanians were displaced and 11,000 were killed in a war that lasted 18 months in the late 1990s.
The family ended up in a refugee camp in neighbouring Macedonia. The family bypassed a chance to immigrate to the U.S. and opted for Canada instead, ultimately settling in the St. Catharines area.
It’s been a unique path taken as Hajrullahu has earned his way to a potential NFL pay check.