From the moment the Rams drafted Michael Sam, two questions loomed large about his NFL journey:
- How would the first active openly gay NFL player fit in with his teammates and the macho NFL culture?
- Would Sam make the Rams’ 53-man roster?
The first question, as Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel pointed out in his excellent piece this week, has been a non-issue. Sam has fit in just fine. All the hubbub was for naught, and humanity has seemingly took a step forward from this whole experience. Hooray for that.
The second question has been much more complicated.
The Rams already boasted one of the deepest and most talented defensive lines in the NFL before the draft. Then they drafted the top defensive tackle prospect, Aaron Donald at no. 13 overall before adding Sam in the seventh round. For good measure, the Rams spent the highest portion of their undrafted free agent allotment money on defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks.
Sam faced an uphill battle from Day 1. Robert Quinn, Chris Long, Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, Eugene Sims, William Hayes, Donald and veteran free agent signee Alex Carrington were all locks to make the roster if healthy; each of those eight have stayed relatively healthy and should all be ready to play Week 1.
Most teams keep either eight or nine defensive lineman on their 53-man roster. You can do the math. The odds were always stacked against Sam to make the Rams’ roster, especially because he really only fits into one position – left defensive end – whereas most of the substitutes on the Rams’ defense, including Westbrooks, can play every position on the line. Sam also didn’t quite blossom as a special teams player as he hoped.
All that being said, Sam has impressed throughout the preseason. He’s picked up two clear sacks (including this awesome one on Johnny Manziel) as well as a possible third that has been under dispute a bit. He’s displayed strong hustle during his snaps, including a play last night where he sniffed out a screen, chased down a Dolphins running back and tackled him from behind.
On almost any other team, Sam would make the 53-man roster and would do so pretty comfortably. But this is no ordinary defensive line. As Grantland’s Bill Barnwell noted in a recent piece, this Rams defensive line has a chance to become a legendary unit that people talk about for years. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Westbrooks has played extremely well this preseason. He may not have the gaudy stats or attention that Sam boasts, but Westbrooks has outshone Sam. And that’s not a knock on Sam; Westbrooks has outshone everyone.
According to Pro Football Focus, Westbrooks is the highest ranked 4-3 defensive end of the preseason among players who have taken 50 percent of their team’s snaps. In Westbrooks’ 113 snaps, which have come against both no. 2 offensive lineman as well as no. 1’s, he has put up a +11.3 rating, an astronomical number. The next closest person is the New Orleans Saints’ Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan with a +7.0 rating. (To read more on Westbrooks’ preseason, click here.) Westbrooks’ strong play basically has practically forced the team to make room for him.
All of which leaves Sam likely on the outside looking in on the Rams’ 53-man roster. Two quotes from Sam and head coach Jeff Fisher seem to confirm that.
Just back from locker room. DE Michael Sam was pleased with how he played the run. Says unequivocally he believes he belongs on a roster.
— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) August 29, 2014
Coach Jeff Fisher agreed with Sam, saying he believes Sam can definitely play in the NFL.
— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) August 29, 2014
The phrasing from both Fisher and Sam certainly seem to suggest that the Rams are preparing to sever ties with Sam. The media (including myself) have seemed to catch on.
I'm reading the tea leaves a bit here, Bud judging by Coach Fisher's post game remarks, I'm guessing M. Sam isn't making the 53-man roster
— Spencer Engel (@Cover32Engel) August 29, 2014
Michael Sam's problem isn't Michael Sam. It's Ethan Westbrooks.
— Doug Farrar (@SI_DougFarrar) August 29, 2014
I do not expect Michael Sam to end up on the Rams' 53-man roster. But he could absolutely end up on some team's 53.
— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) August 29, 2014
The deadline to trim the roster to 53 men is tomorrow, Aug. 30, at 3 p.m. CT, and it sounds like the Rams are waiting until that time to make their decision, so we’ll have to wait until then to know for sure.