Michael Sam has been cut by the St. Louis Rams. The other 31 NFL teams now have 24 hours to claim him off of waivers.
Michael Sam was cut today by the St. Louis Rams, according to various sources, a victim of the numbers game and not homophobia.
Sam, the seventh-round draft choice by the Rams, was seeking to become the first openly gay player to make an NFL regular season roster. He still can get that chance, but it's unlikely to be with the Rams.
The next 24 hours will determine Sam's immediate NFL fate. The other 31 NFL teams can put in a claim for his services and Sam would go to the team that claimed him first. If Sam is unclaimed, there is a strong chance he will be signed as one of 10 practice squad players by the Rams.
If that happens, Sam can practice with the Rams but not play in a game. For that to happen, he will have to be placed on the active 53-man roster, something that can occur, for example, with injuries to other players. Practice squad players earn a minimum $6,300 per week they are on the team. This amounts to $107,100 if he lasts all 17 regular season weeks on the squad. Had Sam made the Rams roster, he would have earned $420,000 this season. He gets to keep the $45,000 signing bonus he was given after the draft.
The defensive end always had an uphill battle making the team since the Rams' strength is along the defensive front. Going into training camp, the first eight slots on the line were all but set, leaving one spot. Sam lost out to undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks, who by various reports had a better overall camp and can also play tackle in addition to end.
Sam played quite well this preseason, in many ways better than the Rams would have predicted given where he was drafted, in part because he lost 13 pounds prior to camp and was quicker. He had 10.5 tackles and three sacks in the preseason, including two sacks of Johnny Manziel. In the preseason finale at Miami, Sam led the team with 5.5 tackles. But he lost out to Westbrooks, who rated higher than him in practice and games, according to most analysts, though Sam closed the gap in the final two preseason games.
We believe Sam was cut for purely football reasons and there is zero evidence that it had anything to do with him being gay. The Rams organization, from General Manager Les Snead to Coach Jeff Fisher to the players, treated Sam as just another player, even though they were aware of his historic nature. Snead and Fisher even attended the ESPYs in Los Angeles in July, where Sam received the Arthur Ashe Award for courage.
Of the NFL's 32 teams, 17 use a base 4-3 defense (which Sam fits best), which means four defensive linemen and three linebackers. Two of the linemen in a 4-3 are ends, which is Sam's position. Now that he is available to the other 31 teams, it will be interesting to see if any of the 4-3 teams in need of a pass rusher picks him up. If not, as we wrote Monday, homophobia will be a key reason. Sam has shown he can play in the league and rush the passer, so if the teams needing pass rushing help pass on him, that would be discouraging and a step back.
"I'm very confident that I'll be playing on a NFL roster this fall," Sam said after the Miami game. "I made some big plays and I think -- I know -- I can play in this league." We hope he gets the chance.
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