Michael Sam was unable to make history in St. Louis, so he'll just have to do it in Dallas. Four days after being released by the Rams, the Cowboys have signed Sam to their practice squad as defensive line depth.
Clarence Hill Jr. of the Star-Telegram first reported the news:
It's official. Michael Sam has been signed to the Cowboys practice squad and will be at practice this morning— Clarence Hill (@clarencehilljr) September 3, 2014
Head coach Jason Garrett later confirmed Sam's arrival in Dallas (via Ian Rapoport of NFL.com):
#Cowboys coach Jason Garrett casually mentions players on 53-man roster and notes added Michael Sam to the practice roster. And that’s that.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 3, 2014
Jason Garrett on Michael Sam: “We bring in a player we want to see on a practice field, we have nothing but good reports on him.”— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 3, 2014
Rainer Sabin of the Dallas Morning News passed along Sam's comments on the move:
Michael Sam says he is very "grateful" for the Cowboys and Jerry Jones for giving him a chance.— Rainer Sabin (@RainerSabinDMN) September 3, 2014
Michael Sam: "I'm trying to help the Cowboys any way I can."— Rainer Sabin (@RainerSabinDMN) September 3, 2014
Sam took to Twitter himself to pass along more thoughts:
As a kid growing up in Texas I always loved the Dallas Cowboys, so to join this incredible organization is really a dream come true. (1/3)— Michael Sam (@MichaelSamNFL) September 3, 2014
I want to thank the Jones family, the entire Cowboys organization, and the city of Dallas for giving me this opportunity. (2/3)— Michael Sam (@MichaelSamNFL) September 3, 2014
Jim Vertuno of the Associated Press provided comments from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones:
Jerry: He's relentless as a worker. He's going to have to make up for a little speed, make up for a little size.— Jim Vertuno (@JimVertuno) September 3, 2014
On Michael Sam: We are looking for pressure players. That's his position ... We hope he can refine his skills. He's not ready to go at all— Jim Vertuno (@JimVertuno) September 3, 2014
Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News passed along Dez Bryant's thoughts on the signing:
Dez Bryant: Michael Sam "deserves respect. I don't judge a book by its cover. He's a football player and I don't look at him any different."— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) September 3, 2014
The Rams provide comments from Rams head coach Jeff Fisher:
Fisher on @MichaelSamNFL: "I'm happy for Mike. I think that's a great decision by the Cowboys."— St. Louis Rams (@STLouisRams) September 3, 2014
Sports Day Dallas Fort Forth passed along a photo of Sam at Cowboys practice:
I look forward to putting my helmet and pads on every day to work my hardest to help bring a sixth Super Bowl Championship to Dallas!! (3/3)— Michael Sam (@MichaelSamNFL) September 3, 2014
Garrett also spoke about how Sam will fit in on the Cowboys' roster and his tenure in St. Louis (via Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Brandon George of The Dallas Morning News):
Jason Garrett says Michael Sam is coming in "to compete for a spot" in an area of need.— Charean Williams (@NFLCharean) September 3, 2014
Jason Garrett on Michael Sam: "One of the things he got caught up in in St. Louis because they have a really good defensive line."— Brandon George (@DMN_George) September 3, 2014
Rapoport also reported on Sam's number with the Cowboys:
Sam, 24, was one of the last five players cut by St. Louis on Saturday afternoon as Jeff Fisher and Co. dropped down to the 53-man minimum. A seventh-round pick out of Missouri, Sam was the first openly gay player selected in the NFL draft.
He made 11 tackles and three sacks in four preseason contests but lost his position battle to the more versatile Ethan Westbrooks. An undrafted free agent out of West Texas A&M, Westbrooks was the ninth and final defensive lineman on a stacked St. Louis position group.
"I will tell you this: I was pulling for Mike, I really was," Rams coach Jeff Fisher told reporters. "And I don’t say that very often. Mike came in here and did everything we asked him to do. It was a football decision, and the decision is no different than any other decision that we make. It was a football decision. It was a football decision back in May to draft Mike."
While the release of a seventh-round pick is typically not noteworthy—less than half make Week 1 rosters, per ESPN Stats & Info—Sam was anything but a typical seventh-round pick. The former Missouri standout, who publicly disclosed his sexuality for the first time in February, was attempting to become the first openly gay player to make a regular-season roster in NFL history.
When his name hit the open market, critics began speaking up as he not only cleared waivers but struggled to find a practice-squad spot. Many, including Bills center Eric Wood, called out the media as the reason Sam didn't instantly get scooped up—labeling the attention Sam received a "distraction."
As they're wont to do, the Cowboys swooped in at a time when the NFL was headed toward a public relations nightmare. ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported Sam would arrive in Dallas on Wednesday for a physical, with the Cowboys having the full intention of signing him. Given that owner Jerry Jones is also the general manager, one would venture a guess he had a pretty strong hand in the decision-making.
The Cowboys enter 2014 with boundless holes in their defense. Dallas placed second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence on revocable injured reserve Tuesday, signing Jack Crawford to take his place. With Lawrence on the shelf until at least Week 9, Sam has a legitimate shot at eventually making the active roster if another injury crops up.
Sam will need a couple weeks to acclimate himself to Rod Marinelli's system, so it's doubtful he sees any time the first couple of weeks. If he does get on the field, odds are it'll be as a specialist on obvious passing downs. He's still a bit on the slight side (6'2", 261 pounds) for an ideal defensive end, which can lead to him occasionally being overpowered on run plays.
Sam is at his best when coming off the edge, where he can use his off-the-ball quickness to get in the backfield. Even if most of his work came against second- and third-team offensive linemen, Sam's three sacks in his limited playing time was impressive. At the very least he has a future as a situational pass-rusher.
He comes into Dallas boasting a resume stronger than typical seventh-round picks in terms of on-field performance. Sam made 48 tackles (19 for loss) and 11.5 sacks as a senior, helping lead Missouri to one of its best seasons in recent history. The SEC named him a co-Defensive Player of the Year, which in recent seasons has become synonymous with first-round picks. Instead, Sam became the lowest-drafted DPOY in the award's history—two rounds lower than the previous low.
As it has the last few days, Sam's sexual orientation became the topic of discussion when assessing the reason for his drop. Former NFL head coach Tony Dungy was one of many who wondered aloud whether Sam would be a distraction to his teammates. But given the way the Rams organization has praised his work ethic and professionalism—and the way teammates have supported him—it was only a matter of time before another team decided to take a risk.
Whether he's great or terrible matters very little. That he's being given this opportunity to make history, though, matters a ton. Sam is the second openly gay player in the United States' four major professional sports leagues, joining NBA center Jason Collins. He's already been labeled an inspiration by countless LGBT youths and was given the Arthur Ashe Award at the ESPYs for his courage in coming out.
No matter what happens in the future, Michael Sam and the Cowboys just made history.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter