Updates from Sunday, Aug. 31
NFL.com's Michael Silver has the latest on Michael Sam's status with the Rams:
No Michael Sam on Rams' practice squad. Jeff Fisher remains a fan but needs practice help at other positions due to injury concerns.— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) September 1, 2014
ESPN's Adam Schefter previously reported Sam had not been claimed by another team after the Rams released him yesterday:
Michael Sam has not been told of any teams that claimed him on waivers. Appears he went unclaimed. Now free to sign with a practice squad.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 31, 2014
Michael Sam's dream of becoming the first openly gay player to make an NFL roster may happen somewhere; it just won't be with the St. Louis Rams. Sam was among the Rams players cut on Saturday, as the team pared down its roster to the 53-man limit required by Aug. 30.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the news:
No history yet...Rams released DE Michael Sam. Prime practice-squad candidate.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 30, 2014
Sam spoke about the move on Twitter:
The most worthwhile things in life rarely come easy, this is a lesson I've always known. The journey continues.— Michael Sam (@MichaelSamNFL) August 30, 2014
I want to thank the entire Rams organization and the city of St. Louis for giving me this tremendous opportunity and allowing me to (1/2)— Michael Sam (@MichaelSamNFL) August 30, 2014
show I can play at this level. I look forward to continuing to build on the progress I made here toward a long and successful career (2/2)— Michael Sam (@MichaelSamNFL) August 30, 2014
The Rams also released a video announcing the roster cuts, which can be viewed on the team's official site. Bleacher Report's Chris Simms gave his thoughts on what could be ahead for Sam in the video below:
Sam, whom the Rams drafted in the seventh round (No. 249 overall) amid controversy, emerged in camp as a situational pass-rusher and special teams contributor. He made 11 tackles and three sacks while working mostly with the second and third units during the preseason.
Following the Rams' final preseason game, ESPN.com, via The Associated Press, provided a statement from Sam discussing his future in the NFL: "I'm very confident that I'll be playing on a NFL roster this fall."
The path to Sam making the roster was always onerous. Robert Quinn and Chris Long comprise one of the league's best defensive-line duos, and there is plenty of depth behind them. Some teams have emphasized defensive-line depth in recent years, subbing in and out with regularity, and Sam would have bolstered that depth, but the roster had more significant holes elsewhere.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher also indicated Sam's contributions on special teams would not be taken into account.
"It's rare that you get a defensive end that's going to go out and contribute on all four of your core special teams," Fisher told reporters last week. "So special teams is not part of the equation for Mike. We're giving him every opportunity to do so, and he's participated in special-teams practices and everything, but that's not going to be part of the criteria for the evaluations."
Sam is subject to waivers, meaning any team that wants to pick up his contract can claim him within the next 48 hours. If Sam is not picked up, he will be an unrestricted free agent. The Rams and other teams would then also have the option to enlist him on their practice squad—a disappointing outcome that nonetheless takes little from his accomplishments.
Sam, 24, is the second active gay player in the United States' four major professional sports—the other being Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins—and the first in the NFL. Sam and Collins are often cited as the two pioneers at the forefront of pushing LGBT rights in American professional sports.
Sam came out publicly for the first time in February. While teammates at Missouri knew of his sexual orientation prior to the 2013 campaign, the matter was kept private both as a personal choice and to not create a distraction.
A mostly middling defensive end for his first three years, Sam broke out as a senior. He made 48 tackles (19 for loss) and 11.5 sacks, winning the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year award and earning a consensus All-American honor.
Those who pointed toward Sam's sexual orientation playing a role in his draft stock falling often looked at his postseason awards. Sam is by far the lowest-drafted SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Each of the last seven were first-round selections, and none had been taken lower than the fifth round. The circumstance allowed the Rams to get what some called one of the draft's better values.
"Let me tell you something, if we were playing the Vikings right now, I'd probably have three sacks the first game," Sam told reporters after he was selected. "Since February and my big announcement, this has been a whole [lot of] speculation of the first openly gay football player, but you know what? It's not about that. It's about playing football."
As they did when they selected him, the Rams made it clear that's how they would judge Sam as well—as a football player.
There were some who wondered if the team had backed itself into a corner. By taking Sam and witnessing the backlash against other NFL franchises that allowed him to fall that far, there was an inherent risk of what would come had he not been able to make the roster.
"[W]e picked him within the process and we’re going to reduce this roster within the process," head coach Jeff Fisher told reporters. "So I don’t see that being an issue."
Fisher was not bluffing. It will be interesting to see the reaction in the coming days. The Rams received unlimited positive press and praise for their proactive stance against intolerance in the locker room. However, they had a difficult decision to make at a deep position.
In the end, though, Michael Sam has been judged as a football player. Exactly what he's wanted this entire process.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.