Bills sign former Panthers edge rusher Efe Obada, who has had quite a football journey

Sal Maiorana
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
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Edge rusher Efe Obada, who signed a one-year contract Wednesday to become the newest member of the Buffalo Bills, was 22 years old and living in London when he decided it might be a good time to start pursuing a career in football.

Not the football they play in England, the one Americans call soccer. No, Obada wanted to give the American version of football a try.

This was in 2013 and Obada, who had never played the game before, recognized that at 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds and blessed with tremendous athleticism and a desire to make something of himself, football could alter the course of his turbulent life.

And he was right. He tried out for, and made, a semi-pro team called the London Warriors, and two years later, against all odds, he signed a free agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys. Since then he has zigged and zagged his way to what went down Wednesday when he put ink to paper at One Bills Drive.

Obada spent much of 2015 on the Cowboys practice squad, and after being cut in 2016 he had brief stints with the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons before finally finding a home with the Carolina Panthers in 2017 through the NFL’s International Player Pathway program, which also counts Buffalo running back Christian Wade.

Efe Obada puts the heat on Josh Allen during a preseason game at Bills Stadium.

By entering the Pathway program, Obada was given a chance to develop without counting against Carolina’s 53-man roster, meaning he wouldn’t be cut. With all those extra practice reps he grew as a player and in 2018 he made history by becoming the first member of the Pathway program to graduate to a 53-man roster.

“He’s worked super hard since he got here,” former Panthers star linebacker Luke Kuechly said in 2019 when the Panthers were getting ready to play the Buccaneers in one of the NFL’s London games, a homecoming for Obada. “His journey from where he was until now shows how hard he works and how persistent he is.”

Yes, it has been quite a journey.

Obada was born in Nigeria and when he was 10 years old he was human-trafficked to the Netherlands. Eventually, he found his way to London and was homeless before going into the foster care program, where he was exposed to the city’s gang culture.

Football saved him, and his road to America is one of those “right place at the right time” moments. An assistant coach for the London Warriors landed an internship with the Cowboys and he talked up Obada enough to persuade the Cowboys to give him a chance based merely on the potential of his raw talent.

Ultimately it didn’t work out there, but after a year with the Panthers, former coach Ron Rivera gave Obada a legitimate chance to make the 2018 team, and he succeeded.

“You know, you talk about Efe growing up, that is a tremendous story,” Rivera told the Charlotte Observer in 2019. “But as a football player, when you get your chance, it’s about taking advantage of the opportunity, and that’s what Efe’s done. Here’s a guy that didn’t grow up playing football like we do here in the United States. So when he got his opportunity to play in England, he showed and they gave him the chance – and he took advantage of it. That, to me, is really what the story is when you get past his growing up.”

Unlike almost all of the former Panthers the Bills have signed in the last four-plus years, Obada came to the team after both Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane had left Carolina. However, as we’ve come to learn, both men who run the Bills’ football operation trust the process and culture that has existed with that franchise and that’s probably partially why they’re giving Obada a chance in Buffalo.

When the Bills and Panthers conducted shared practices in 2019, Carolina's Efe Obada and Buffalo's Christian Wade, two members of the NFL's International Pathway Program, shared time together.

Obada played 187 snaps on the Panthers defensive line in the 10 games he dressed for in 2018 and he hasn’t missed a game since. In 2019 he played 306 snaps with the bulk of it from both edges, and then last year he was on the field for 415 snaps and while he was primarily on the edge, he also began to show more versatility lining up in the interior.

Moving around as he did in 2020, he recorded 5.5 sacks and was in on 18 tackles, forced a fumble and recovered two fumbles. Two of the sacks proved to be signature moments as he corralled both Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.

The Bills are tight against the salary cap, but Beane created $7.5 million in space Wednesday morning by converting a chunk of cornerback Tre’Davious White’s 2021 base salary to bonus money. A portion of that was used to sign Obada who will now compete with A.J. Epenesa, Daryl Johnson, Mike Love and Bryan Cox Jr. for playing time behind presumptive starters Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison.

Speaking in February to The Independent, a London-based newspaper, on his impending free agency, Obada said, “The sky is the limit. I’ve proven this year that I can play anywhere on the defensive line and be a contributing factor. No matter what happens next, teams know what they’re going to get from me – the guy that comes out first and is the last to leave. It’s exciting.”

Sal Maiorana can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana. 

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