After making moves Monday, the St. Louis Rams must cut four more players in order to reduce their roster to 75 players by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. EDT deadline, which means another anxious few hours lie ahead for Michael Sam.
Sam, who hopes to become the first openly gay man on a regular-season roster, has performed above expectations for a seventh-round draft pick, but the Rams are deep on the defensive line. Will they keep him for special teams? And will he pass the test when teams must cut rosters to 53 players this weekend? His two sacks of Johnny Manziel in second-team duty last Thursday certainly raised his profile, but the best the Rams may be able to do for him is keep him on the 10-player practice squad. Peter King writes on MMQB.com that that may be the most likely scenario because of the play of another longshot.
This is not about what Sam, the seventh-round defensive end from Missouri, hasn’t done. It’s about what free-agent defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks from West Texas A&M has done—and about the lack of holes on the deep St. Louis defensive line. St. Louis came to camp with a solid core of eight likely defensive linemen to make the roster, and planning to keep either eight, nine or 10 on the final roster. The solid eight are still solid. Westbrooks charged into the lead early the camp and has been outstanding in practices and games. Sam is a worthy challenger. Keeping 10 would be a stretch, but Sam’s play has now made that a tough call.
Sam has three sacks and three more pressures or quarterback hits in his 82 snaps in the preseason, and he’s out-performed what the Rams had projected for him—in part because he’s quicker off the edge at 257 than he was at 270 as a college player last fall. When the preseason began, the prevailing feeling was there was probably one spot on St. Louis’ deep defensive line for a prospect, and perhaps one on the practice squad. Westbrook has one sack and seven hits or pressures.
For Westbrooks and Sam, who has thrived as a longshot over the summer, there will be a great deal riding on the preseason finale Thursday night against the Miami Dolphins. If he plays well, he may get the edge for a spot on the active roster. Or the Rams could look at the makeup of their roster and gamble, cutting him when rosters must be reduced to 53 on Saturday attempting to place him on the practice squad later over the weekend. Another team could swoop in and pick him up. That seems unlikely, though, so the Rams do have some flexibility.
There’s history riding on this, for the Rams, for Sam and for the NFL.
“I think I got better today, which is very important,” Sam said Saturday night. “When you don’t have many plays, you know you have to perform at a high level. You have to do the best with the plays you have, and I thought I had a good fourth quarter.
“I can only control what I can control. I am not only interviewing for the Rams, I’m interviewing for the other 31 teams, as long as I keep getting better. I make sure I’m listening to the coaches and getting better at my technique. There are 31 other teams in the NFL, so I have got to get better.”