Michael Sam laid it all on the field Thursday night against the Miami Dolphins, with a team-high 5.5 tackles in his last preseason game as a defensive end for the St. Louis Rams. The question is: Will it be good enough to earn him a spot on the team's 53-man roster and become the first openly gay player in league history? The Rams will announce their final cuts by 4 p.m. EDT Saturday.
"I'm very confident that I'll be playing on a NFL roster this fall," Sam said after the game. "I made some big plays and I think -- I know -- I can play in this league." Sam added that if he makes the team, he will celebrate with a drink and a cigar.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher agreed, saying: "I believe he can play in this league, adding, "as can some other guys on this team that had good preseasons." Both men's comments acknowledge that if Sam is on an NFL roster, it might not be with the Rams, who are very deep at defensive line.
Sam is fighting for perhaps the ninth and last spot on the line with fellow rookie Ethan Westbrooks, and Fisher's post-game comments were more complimentary toward Westbrooks. From Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Sam was very active in the first half, and according to unofficial press box stats led the Rams with six tackles by game's end. But Westbrooks wasn't far behind with four tackles. One of those tackles came on his second sack of the preseason, and he added two quarterback hits.
"I'm gonna have to look at the tape, but Ethan was making a lot of plays every time I looked," Fisher said.
As for Sam? "I really didn't see anything good or bad out of Mike ... but he played hard," Fisher said.
Here are the scenarios facing Sam:
- The Rams go with nine defensive lineman, keep Sam and cut Westbrooks.
- The Rams go with nine defensive lineman, keep Westbrooks and cut Sam.
- Rams go with nine defensive lineman, keep both Sam and Westbrooks, and trade a veteran for a need elsewhere.
- Rams go with 10 defensive lineman, keep both Sam and Westbrooks.
If cut, Sam will be available to the other 31 teams for 24 hours. If he gets claimed, he will have a spot on the roster of that team. If he is not claimed, he can be added to the Rams' 10-man practice squad. This means he can practice with the team but not play, and his salary would be much less than the $440,000 he would get for making the roster; practice players are guaranteed a minimum salary of $6,300 per week for the 17-week season.
My guess? Sam gets cut and winds up on the Rams practice squad. This is only a gut feeling and I don't know more than anyone else following this. But Fisher has been glowing about Westbrooks all training camp, so I don't see him being cut. I also don't think the Rams -- with needs elsewhere -- can afford the luxury of keeping 10 defensive linemen.
I also don't think any of the other 31 teams will claim Sam. Unfortunately, I still sense that there is this absurd idea that the first openly gay player in the league will be a "distraction" and figure that teams won't want to deal with it. This is despite Sam fitting in marvelously well with the Rams and being no distraction. But old thought processes and prejudices die hard.
I hope I am dead wrong and that Sam is a member of the Rams roster come Saturday. Barring that, he deserves a spot on another team's roster. The guy can play and shows up big on game day. He's a pro and has proven it -- let's hope he gets the chance to show it during the regular season.
Miami sports radio host Bruce Silverman covered the game for Outsports. Here is his report: