The first openly-gay player drafted by an NFL team was waived by the St Louis Rams on Saturday as teams across the league reduced their rosters to the NFL- mandated limit of 53.
"It was a football decision, and the decision is no different than any other decision that we make," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said at a Saturday afternoon news conference."
Sam was just one of nearly 700 players who is temporarily unemployed although it's almost a fait accompli that the former Mizzou star will also be among the over 300 who will be brought back as a member of the practice squad in less than 24 hours, if not for the Rams then certainly for another team looking for defensive line help.
"I can't go there right now," Fisher said when asked if he would bring Sam back on Sunday. "We don't, coaches don't talk about practice squads because we have to see what happens as far as the (waiver) claims and things are concerned. We'll know better tomorrow afternoon. The practice squad is heavily dependent on what you do in other positions."
Sam acquitted himself well in the preseason, piling up 11 tackles and three sacks, and could indeed be plucked up by another team desperate for a pass rusher.
As we stated back in May, however, the Rams were never an ideal fit for him because they are so deep at defensive end. In the end Sam lost out to fellow rookie Ethan Westbrooks, a far more versatile prospect with a higher-ceiling as a player.
"He was very productive in the preseason for us and played all four spots," Fisher said of Westbrooks. "He is a very talented, young player that I think has a really good future."
Sam, though, was the national news story.
After publicly declaring his homosexuality shortly before the scouting combine took place in February, Sam, the co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year at Missouri, became the most intriguing story to the non-football media.
Despite his impressive production with the Tigers at the college level, though, the 24-year-old was considered a final-day pick or high-priority free agent due to size and athletic limitations, labeled by scouts as a classic tweener, lacking the length to be an impact player at defensive end and the lateral mobility to play in space as an outside linebacker.
To those who understand the game, the scouting reports on Sam seemed fair but to those who don't, the league was showing its intolerance toward the gay community.
Fisher probably saved the NFL from a public relations hit as Twitter was abuzz, getting ready to rip the league for failing to draft Sam when the coach and his general manager Les Snead changed the narrative by doing exactly that, selecting him with the first of two compensatory choices at No. 249 overall, seven spots before Mr. Irrelevant, Memphis free safety Lonnie Ballentine, was crowned.
Sam's selection was such a big deal that even President Barack Obama chimed in.
"The President congratulates Michael Sam, the Rams and the NFL for taking an important step forward in our Nation's journey," a White House official said at the time. "From the playing field to the corporate boardroom, LGBT Americans prove everyday that you should be judged by what you do and not who you are."
Ironically, though, the Rams' decision to draft Sam made his ultimate dream of becoming the first openly gay player to play in the NFL more difficult.
As stated St. Louis is loaded with talent on the defensive line and particularly at end where the team's starters remain Robert Quinn, perhaps the NFL's best pure pass rusher, and Chris Long, a former first-round pick who is still playing at a high level. Solid veterans William Hayes and Eugene Sims are in reserve as well as Westbrooks.
When no injuries cropped up, Sam's fate was sealed.
"I will tell you this: I was pulling for Mike, I really was," Fisher said. "And I don't say that very often. Mike came in here and did everything we asked him to do."
Agents will tell you it's far better to go undrafted than to be picked late in the final round because they can then survey the landscape and pick the best landing spot for a prospect.
Now Sam will finally get a chance to do exactly that.
"The most worthwhile things in life rarely come easy, this is a lesson I've always known," Sam wrote on Twitter. "The journey continues."
CUT-TING THROUGH THE NFL
A "Champ" got KO's in New Orleans, a player who started 17 games for a Super Bowl team wasn't considered good enough this time around, and a team desperate for anything at wide receiver decided a proven veteran couldn't be of any help.
Champ Bailey, Duke Ihenacho, and Nate Burleson were among the bigger name players in the same position as Michael Sam on Saturday, on the outside, looking in.
Bailey, the future Hall of Fame cornerback, is unemployed again after the Saints released him, potentially foreshadowing the end of the line for the 36- year-old, seven-time All-Pro, who performed poorly when he could get on the field in Denver last season.
New Orleans kept five other cornerbacks on its roster, including undrafted rookie Brian Dixon.
"Whatever happens to him in the short term won't change his legacy," Broncos general manager John Elway said. "He's going to be a Hall of Famer. A guy that will go down as one of the best ever."
Ihenacho held together the back end of Denver's defense a season ago but the arrival of the hard-hitting T.J. Ward in free agency along with the return of Rahim Moore from acute compartment syndrome meant the former undrafted free agent from San Jose State was a luxury Elway no longer needed.
"We're in a situation that you want to be in even though it makes it much more difficult because of the fact of you're having to let a lot of good football players go." Elway said. "This is by far the deepest team since I've been here and the toughest decisions we've had since I've been here."
Burleson, a 12-year NFL vet who struggled with a nagging hamstring strain throughout camp, snared a 27-yard pass from Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel in Thursday night's preseason finals against the Chicago Bears but it wasn't enough.
"Nate is a true professional and it was a difficult decision for us." Browns first-year head coach Mike Pettine said. "Ultimately, his availability was a concern with all the time he missed and we liked what we saw in the other players at that position."
One player who might end up on Cleveland's radar is Stephen Hill, the Jets' 2012 second-round pick who was also released on Saturday.
Hill, a lengthy, talented receiver who never translated his athleticism into production on the field in north Jersey, amassed just 45 receptions with four touchdowns in 23 career games with New York. Nonetheless, his agent placed the blame elsewhere, looking at Jets general manager John Idzik as well as coach Rex Ryan.
"I'm disappointed in Idzik and Rex with the way the whole thing went down there," Alan Herman told USA Today Sports. "Two years in that kind of situation is disheartening.
"He didn't have a chance that first year with that whole Tim Tebow-Mark Sanchez fiasco. ... His second year, Geno Smith was learning how to play quarterback. So they never threw the ball deep because they wanted to simplify things for Geno."
Arizona Cardinals: NT Isaac Sopoaga
Atlanta Falcons: LB Pat Angerer
Baltimore Ravens: CB Derek Cox, C A.Q. Shipley
Buffalo Bills: WR T.J. Graham, P Brian Moorman, QB Jordan Palmer, QB Jeff Tuel
Carolina Panthers: S Robert Lester
Chicago Bears: OL Eben Britton, CB Kelvin Hayden, S M.D. Jennings (injury settlement)
Cincinnati Bengals: RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, S Danieal Manning, C Trevor Robinson, DT Devon Still
Cleveland Browns: WR Nate Burleson, DB Leon McFadden, RB Chris Ogbonnaya, QB Connor Shaw
Dallas Cowboys: G Uche Nwaneri, RB Phillip Tanner, RB Ryan Williams
Denver Broncos: S Duke Ihenacho, DT Kevin Vickerson
Detroit Lions: WR Kris Durham, RB Mikel Leshoure, DE Darryl Tapp
Green Bay Packers: WR Myles White
Houston Texans: LB Max Bullough, LB Quentin Groves
Indianapolis Colts: LB Kelvin Sheppard
Jacksonville Jaguars: C Mike Brewster, QB Ricky Stanzi
Kansas City Chiefs: LB Nico Johnson, DL Kyle Love, K Ryan Succop, OT J'Marcus Webb
Miami Dolphins: RB Daniel Thomas
Minnesota Vikings: S Kurt Coleman, S Chris Crocker, DT Fred Evans
New England Patriots: WR Josh Boyce, TE Steve Maneri, DL Jerel Worthy
New Orleans Saints: CB Champ Bailey, WR Robert Meachem
New York Giants: FB John Conner, TE Kellen Davis, DE Israel Idonije, QB Curtis Painter
New York Jets: QB Tajh Boyd, RB Alex Green, WR Stephen Hill, CB Dimitri Patterson, RB Daryl Richardson, QB Matt Simms
Oakland Raiders: WR Greg Little
Philadelphia Eagles: RB Kenjon Barner (waived/injured), K Alex Henery
Pittsburgh Steelers: OL Guy Whimper
St. Louis Rams: DE Michael Sam
San Diego Chargers: WR Vincent Brown (waived/injured)
San Francisco 49ers: ST/WR Kassim Osgood, OG Adam Snyder
Seattle Seahawks: CB Phillip Adams, QB Terrelle Pryor, RT Eric Winston
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: K Connor Barth, RB/KR Jeff Demps, DE Larry English, QB Mike Kafka, OL Jamon Meredith, S Major Wright
Tennessee Titans: LB Moise Fokou, WR Brian Robiskie
Washington Redskins: LB Everette Brown, S Phillip Thomas