With the Los Angeles Rams set to be featured on the 2016 edition of HBO's Hard Knocks, a new report has surfaced that alleges the Rams cut an under-the-table deal with the NFL to avoid being part of the show in 2014.
According to Howard Balzer of 590 The Fan in St. Louis, the then-St. Louis Rams agreed to select defensive end Michael Sam with the No. 249 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft in exchange for an assurance that they would not be on Hard Knocks.
Sam, who was the NFL's first and only openly gay player before the Rams released him prior to the 2014 campaign, responded to the report on Twitter:
Michael Sam @MichaelSam52
I'm not surprised at all https://t.co/wGnyFpuIVP3/23/2016, 8:47:11 PM
Sam further elaborated on the Dan Patrick Show on Friday, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk:
“Not surprised that the NFL had a deal with the Rams. Makes sense to me why they cut me and not Ethan Westbrooks even though I out performed him in our production. Makes sense why Coach Fisher was very vague the day he cut me from the team.”
While the former Missouri standout seemingly believes there may be credence to Balzer's revelation, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher strongly denied that an agreement of that kind took place, according to ESPN's Mike & Mike (h/t Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk):
That in itself is absolutely absurd, it's 100 percent incorrect. I was really taken aback by those comments. It's insulting, from my standpoint, as it relates to Michael. We had three seventh-round picks. When we drafted Michael he was the best player on the board. Who in their right mind would think that you give up a draft choice to avoid doing something like that? ...
It's really unfair to Michael. Michael worked so hard. It's really not fair to Michael because of all the hard work he put in.
Regardless of what happened in 2014, the Rams' journey to L.A. will be highlighted on this year's edition of Hard Knocks, as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced Wednesday, per the NFL's official Twitter account:
"The @RamsNFL, and their return to LA, will be chronicled through the eyes of #HardKnocks & @NFLFilms." -@nflcommish https://t.co/tyymHyvpz93/23/2016, 2:43:40 PM
Although Sam never played in an NFL regular-season game after getting cut by the Rams and spending time on the Dallas Cowboys practice squad, he was a feel-good story during his time in the league.
The notion that he was used as a pawn could taint that, but the Rams' true motivations may never be known.
From a production standpoint, Sam undoubtedly deserved to be drafted in 2014, so regardless of the reasoning, it is difficult to argue against the assertion that he earned the right to chase his NFL dream.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.