The Carolina Panthers have waived Canadian kicker Lirim Hajrullahu in order to make room for their 2022 draft class.
Signed last December after an injury to veteran Zane Gonzalez, Hajrullahu spent the last three weeks of the 2021 NFL season in Carolina, connecting on 4-of-5 field goals and all three of his extra point attempts
The five-foot-eleven, 205-pounder dressed for one game earlier in that season with the Dallas Cowboys, briefly replacing veteran Greg Zuerlein in Week 10 while he was out due to COVID-19 protocols. He said he “didn’t feel any jitters” during his NFL debut, during which he went perfect on his converts and kickoffs in a rout of the Atlanta Falcons.
Zuerlein returned for the Cowboys’ loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11, prompting the team to release Hajrullahu. He was briefly signed by the Washington Football Team, before landing on the Panthers’ active roster.
The former CFL kicker originally signed with the Cowboys in August of 2021, but he was waived prior to final training camp cuts. During Week 3 of the pre-season he made both of his extra point attempts and averaged 73.3 yards on kick-offs with two touchbacks.
Hajrullahu’s first NFL opportunity came in 2020 as a member of the Los Angeles Rams, but he was released following training camp. He signed a futures contract with the Panthers that January, but was released in March. Before returning to the NFL, Hajrullahu briefly played in The Spring League, setting a record by hitting a 59-yard field goal for the Generals.
The Western University product played six CFL seasons before making the jump north of the border, spending time with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats after going unselected in the 2014 CFL Draft. He was twice named an East Division all-star and won a Grey Cup in 2017.
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. He tied for first in the CFL in field goals made (47), third in scoring (162 points) and sixth in field goal percentage.
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.