The NFL options for Michael Sam, seeking to become the first openly gay player in league history, dropped dramatically Sunday after he was not claimed by the other 31 NFL teams after being cut by the St. Louis Rams. Multiple reports said that Sam was not going to be signed to the Rams' 10-man practice squad, either. (Update: The Rams made it official Monday by releasing their practice squad that did not include Sam).
After Sam was among the last cuts by the Rams on Saturday, he spent the next 24 hours hoping to be signed to an active roster by another NFL team, but the 3 p.m. EDT Sunday deadline came and went with no offers. Sam then met with the Rams for an exit interview in the afternoon, and it was here or shortly after, that he was apparently told he would not be signed to the team's 10-man practice squad. Practice team players can practice with the team but not play and get about a quarter of the salary of the lowest-paid rookie.
Jim Thomas, Rams beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, laid out why the Rams did not sign Sam to the practice squad:
They already have five defensive ends on their 53-man roster and have depth needs at too many other positions to cover injuries, and they need players for the scout team to run the plays of opposing teams in practice now that the regular season is here.
As of Sunday night, the Post-Dispatch had confirmed the names of six players the Rams will sign for their 10-man practice squad. But they still had needs to address at quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker and cornerback - which would soak up the final four spots.
Albert Breer, a reporter with the NFL Network, tweeted this, confirming what Thomas wrote:
Michael Sam won't be signed to the Rams practice squad, per source. St. Louis using those spots to back up areas without depth.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) September 1, 2014
The hope is Sam can land on a practice squad somewhere in the next few days.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) September 1, 2014
Michael Silver, a veteran NFL reporter with close ties to the Rams and now with the NFL Network, gave some insight into the Rams' thinking:
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
With the Rams out of the picture for now, the number of teams possible to pick up Sam has dwindled. He plays defensive end in a 4-3 system, and that is used by only half the teams. Of that half, most teams are already set at defensive line, so Sam would need to find a team that has a need for his skills.
Sam showed he could play in the NFL, leading the Rams in tackles and sacks in the four-game preseason. While this was against second- and third-teamers, the same can be said for the majority of practice squad players. The respected NFL data site Pro Football Focus rated Sam as the 44th best out of 100 defensive ends in a 4-3 scheme. That makes his inability to land on a practice squad that more puzzling.
If Sam fails to be signed to a practice squad this week, he can work out on his own and be ready in case a team needs his services during the season. He can also explore playing in the Canadian Football League, which would at least get him playing time. Teams must announced practice squad acquisitions by 4 p.m. each day, and with the season starting in less than a week, it appears highly unlikely Sam will be on an NFL team this week.