As first reported by NFL Media’s Michael Silver, a close confidant of St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher who has on several occasions even been in the Rams’ war room on draft day, the team will not carry rookie defensive end Michael Sam on their 10-man practice squad this season.
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
For the most part, teams are done filling up their practice squads, and it doesn’t look like Sam will get a practice squad opportunity with any teams. Seeing as he was not seen as fit to take one of the 2,016-plus jobs available in the NFL on either an active roster or practice squad, history would suggest that Sam’s opportunity in the NFL is over, which can’t really be accurately described as anything but a blacklisting.
While teams can say all they want that it’s a matter of filling up practice squad spots with players who provide the necessary depth to properly execute weekday practices, it’s really odd that not one of the 320 available practice squad spots could be spared for a guy who statistically was one of the better players in the NFL during the preseason and was one of the best players in college football last season.
- There were nine conference defensive players of the year in the Football Bowl Subdivision Conferences last season (including Tulane’s Lorenzo Doss, who did not enter the draft). Among those players–a group that also included first-rounders Khalil Mack, Marcus Smith, and Jason Verrett and third-rounders Will Sutton and Chris Borland–Sam joined only Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat and Sun Belt D.P.O.Y. Xavius Boyd as the only of these players to not make NFL rosters. Sam was by far the latest-ever selected SEC Defensive Player of the Year in the draft. In fact, the inaugural SEC DPOY, Chad Lavalais in 2003, was the only other SEC D.P.O.Y. to not have been taken in the first round, being selected in the fifth round by the Atlanta Falcons. Obviously, Sam is the only SEC D.P.O.Y. to ever be released before the start of his rookie season.
- With an officially recorded 3.5 sacks, Sam had more sacks than any other player who was released. He was tied for third in preseason sacks, and with all due respect to both Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott and Rams practice squad tackle Sean Hooey, Elliott likely has only two sacks instead of five if Hooey doesn’t get absolutely brutalized trying to play left tackle against the Packers.
- With 11 tackles, Sam also had the sixth-most tackles of any 4-3 defensive end in the league during the preseason, according to NFL.com.
With Sam’s fate in the NFL, it’s difficult to understand why any other gay player would ever want to publicly disclose their true identity, seeing as they’ll be blacklisted. Unfortunately, with the state of modern technology and the ability for anyone to share information to the world, it’s pretty much a Catch 22. Sam was going to be at a huge disadvantage either way, because there were rumors going around Twitter and the internet and people who had seen him out with other men at Mizzou, and teams obviously were going to get hands on that info.
As we heard Sam say just before the combine, he was really surprised about how many people at the Senior Bowl already knew about his sexual orientation, and it seems hardly coincidental that at that point, when all those NFL minds were gathered together in one location, that we began to hear such odd-placed complaints about Sam’s ability to fit in a 3-4 defense or drop into coverage: two things that he had never done during the course of his football career.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen these situations play out before, and even if players try their hardest to stay completely out of the public eye, we’re probably going to see more instances where very good, talented NFL players are left without jobs purely for off-the-field reasons. Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman wrote late last year about two players (one of whom was strongly believed to be safety Kerry Rhodes) who planned to publicly come out, but were later left without jobs when teams around the league found out about their plans. In addition, there’s another prominent player who was a important and successful starter for several years, yet has been conspicuously released from three different organizations around the NFL as rumors about him being gay have swirled around Twitter and the rest of the internet.
While there are plenty of people who are not supporters of Sam because of his off-the-field life, hopefully most NFL fans at least want to see the best players on the field on a week-to-week basis. And if Michael Sam, one of the better players in the league this preseason and one of the best college players in the country in 2013, isn’t one of the more than 2,016 players who are in some way part of an NFL roster, that’s simply not the case.