A whirlwind week of personnel moves aimed to improve the Dallas Cowboys’ roster before Sunday’s season opener takes another interesting spin Wednesday when defensive end Michael Sam arrives for a physical.
If all goes well, Sam will be signed to the Cowboys’ 10-man practice squad.
Sam, the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year at Missouri, became the first openly gay player to be drafted when the St. Louis Rams selected him in the seventh round.
He had three sacks and 11 tackles in the preseason, but the Rams cut Sam on Saturday, paving the way for him to join the pass-rush starved Cowboys as a practice squad player and start the countdown when the first openly gay player gets on the field in a real NFL game.
“This is a huge deal,” said Wade Davis, a former NFL player who revealed his sexuality nine years after his career was over. “The NFL and the Cowboys hold a certain cache in the minds of America. For Sam to go the Cowboys and go to team in need of defensive linemen is big. Going to the Rams we knew that was a team that was deep on the defensive line. But he has an opportunity with the Cowboys. With snaps and a chance to learn the system, there is a chance for him to not just be an LGBT icon but actually [be] on the roster, which is another level of transcendence.”
Davis spoke at the NFL owners meetings in March, giving presentations to league officials, describing the challenges he faced and the advantages to creating a more accepting environment for gay players.
“When I spoke in the owners meeting, one of the comments I made was that it would be impactful for an owner like Jerry Jones to stand up to say ‘the Dallas Cowboys would be accepting of a gay player,’ ” Davis said. “It wasn’t a day later that Jerry Jones came out to the media and said that. Now you have Jerry Jones signing Sam to the practice squad. That speaks to the type of person and type of man that Jerry Jones is.”
It also speaks to the concern in Dallas about a defense that finished last in the league a year ago, giving up the third most yards in league history.
While Sam was not a fit for the Rams’ roster or their practice squad because of their deep talent pool, he is an intriguing addition to a Cowboys team that thought he was too slow to fit their scheme in May.
That was before the situation at defensive end turned from deficient to desperate.
The Cowboys had 35 sacks last season but have been in desperate need of pass-rushers since losing defensive tackle Jason Hatcher and defensive end DeMarcus Ware in the off-season. Defensive end Anthony Spencer still is a “couple” of weeks away from a return from microfracture knee surgery. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, a second-round draft pick, suffered a fractured foot two weeks into training camp.
He went on short-term injured reserve Tuesday, making him ineligible to practice for six weeks and forcing him to sit out the first eight games.
Former Oakland Raiders defensive end Jack Crawford signed Tuesday and a trade Sunday brought in Lavar Edwards. But neither is a proven pass-rusher, which would give Sam a chance to play his way onto the 53-man roster.
Sam, who is 6-foot-2, 255 pounds, had 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss last season at Missouri in winning the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year award. He had 32.5 career sacks at Missouri .
The Cowboys filled out their practice squad Tuesday by signing offensive tackle John Wetzel and defensive back Jemea Thomas. They would have to release one of the 10 players on the practice squad to sign Sam.
Practice squad players make $6,300 per week, including the bye week.
Davis said Sam is ready. The best part for him is that the NFL and the Cowboys are ready as well.
“The Cowboys are not signing Sam to be an advocate,” Davis said. “They are signing him to help the guys on the active roster be their best on Sunday.
“But another part of this story is that this is a chance to rephrase the notion that the NFL is homophobic. He played with 90 guys in college at Missouri. There were no problems in St. Louis and now he is coming to Dallas. The majority of the players don’t care. Jerry Jones and the coaching staff believe they have the right environment for something like this.”