IRVING, Texas – Michael Sam’s NFL journey will continue in Dallas.
Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted in NFL history, joined the Dallas Cowboys practice squad today (Wednesday) after getting released from the Rams 53-man roster over the long holiday weekend.
“We felt like it was a good move for our football team right now,” said head coach Jason Garrett. “We’re bringing a player in we wanted to see on the practice field, and got nothing but good reports about him from our people and the people in St. Louis. We just want to give him a chance to come in and see if he can help our football team.”
St. Louis selected Sam, the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, in the seventh round of this year’s draft. But the Rams didn’t bring him back to the practice squad after a productive preseason, and he went unclaimed on waivers.
Garrett said he knew the Rams had a very good defensive line, making it difficult for Sam to make that roster. He feels that Sam has a chance to come to Dallas and compete at a position the Cowboys have tried to address this offseason.
“This is about football,” Garrett said. “We evaluated him as a football player and think he can help us as a football player. We want to see what he can do, but our attention and focus is on football.”
Sam wasn’t initially on the radars of some NFL teams. Many of them viewed the 6-2, 260-pound pass rusher as a “tweener” – not quite quick or athletic enough to be an outside linebacker in the 3-4 but not big enough to be a 4-3 defensive end.
But it was that latter position Sam demonstrated he could play in St. Louis, with a preseason that included three sacks, five quarterback hits and 11 combined tackles. His biggest game came in the third week of the preseason (commonly the dress rehearsal game) against the Browns, when he recorded two sacks against Johnny Manziel.
That was just a follow-up to an impressive college career, which included 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss in 2013, helping Missouri reach the SEC Championship Game.
Sam released a series of tweets following his release from St. Louis, thanking the Rams for giving him a chance. He also stated after a successful preseason that he knows he belongs in the league.
“I want to thank the entire Rams organization and the city of St. Louis for giving me this tremendous opportunity and allowing me to show I can play at this level,” Sam tweeted. “I look forward to continuing to build on the progress I made here toward a long and successful career.
“The most worthwhile things in life rarely come easy, this is a lesson I’ve always known. The journey continues.”
For now, that journey continues in Dallas.
Sam passed his physical today and was allowed to practice. The Cowboys dropped seventh-round pick Will Smith from the practice squad to allow Sam to officially join. Sam is the second defensive end on the practice squad, joining Kenneth Boatright.
The Dallas Cowboys had eight of their 10 practice squad players picked by Tuesday morning. By Tuesday afternoon, they also added tackle John Wetzel and defensive back Jemea Thomas to the practice squad.
With Sam on the practice squad, the Cowboys have another player who can help in the pass-rushing department. The Cowboys finished last in the league in sacks per pass attempt last season and already lost their two defensive end draft picks, DeMarcus Lawrence and Ben Gardner, for the beginning of the year.
Lawrence, the team’s second-round pick, is expected to return before the end of the season, while Gardner, one of the Cowboys’ seventh-round picks, was placed on injured reserve.
With Lawrence out early, the Cowboys could use help at right defensive end. Most of his opportunities in St. Louis came as a left defensive end, but Sam did get some experience on both sides and any pass-rushing skills could assist the front seven.
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IRVING, Texas – Whatever off-field talking points have surrounded Michael Sam during his brief, but well-documented NFL career, they didn’t faze anyone within the Dallas Cowboys facility at Valley Ranch.
That’s not to deny the obvious. Sam’s status as the league’s first openly gay player has been celebrated and debated since he revealed that fact seven months ago. It’s the reason why the rookie defensive end has already sold custom-ordered jerseys during his one day with the Cowboys, and it’s the reason why his signing drew throngs of reporters to the facility – more than usual, even by Dallas Cowboys standards.
“It was a little longer than I expected, but you know what, I’m here now and that’s all that matters,” said Sam of his four-day wait for an opportunity after being released by St. Louis.
Sam, who is undoubtedly accustomed to similar scenes by now, spent five minutes with a multitude of reporters — outside the Dallas Cowboys locker room to accommodate for the size of the crowd. The 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year said he’s been tired of the attention since February, when he first came out publicly, but he understands it.
“This is part of the job, so I’ve just got to do it – I just don’t care,” he said.
He added: “I’m trying to help the Cowboys any way I can, so I can earn a spot on this team and help our team win games – anything I can. Special teams, left end, right end, wherever. If you want me to hold the ball, I’ll hold the ball – I’ll do it to perfection.”
Despite that fact, discussion is bound to persist about Sam as a person – on both a local and national level. Inside the confines of the locker room, however, Tony Romo turned that conversation toward the player.
“For us as football players it’s all about – there’s 53 guys, there’s 10 guys on the practice squad — consistently, everyone’s got different politics, religion, views on things. I think what you find is, in the locker room no one cares,” Romo said. “It’s all about ‘Can you help this football team win?’ We’re always bringing in people to help the football team, and if he can help us that’s a bonus and we’ll be lucky to have him.”
It remains to be seen how much Sam can help the Cowboys win, as he’s just a practice squad player for the time being. Having just concluded a three-sack, 11-tackle preseason in St. Louis, though, Sam said he’s eager to prove what he’s capable of.
“I thought I did really good to earn a spot on a team, and I’m very grateful that it was the Cowboys,” he said. “I’m very grateful of Jerry Jones and the Dallas organization.”
Along that same line, the focus was the same for Sam as his new quarterback – this return to his home state of Texas is about football, not his sexual orientation.
“The veteran guys, Tony Romo, the quarterback, said ‘Hey, welcome. Let’s get to work.’ Witten came to me and said pretty much the same thing,” Sam said. “It’s about football, and they want to win. They think I can help them win, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said this morning that the decision to sign Sam was about personnel. He also downplayed the necessity of fielding so many questions about a practice squad player, who won’t be eligible to play in games barring a roster move.
“He obviously just got here this morning, so he needs to understand what we’re asking him to do,” Garrett said. “We have a full complement of defensive guys who have been here for a while, so like with any of the new guys, the biggest thing they have to do is understand what we’re asking them to do, get into the flow of things and hopefully show us that they belong as quickly as possible.”
Whether he belongs on the field is something the Cowboys will sort out in the coming days in the weeks, but whether he belongs in the locker room is something they answered firmly from the get-go.
“I think most importantly, it’s an external thing. It comes from the outside,” Garrett said. “That’s your decision — what question you want to ask. We’re focused on football.”
RELATED: Teammates show support for Sam; focus is on football
IRVING, Texas – Camera crews don’t double at Valley Ranch every time a practice squad player gets signed.
But the Dallas Cowboys players inside the locker room don’t appear to mind the added attention paid to new addition Michael Sam. They just care if he can play football.
As the first openly gay player in the league, Sam’s going to garner a lot of attention. But the attention within the locker room from the players is all football-related. Dez Bryant said Sam deserves respect just like any other teammate, and he’s going to treat him as he would any other player fighting for a spot on the roster.
“He deserves the same respect as anybody else, so that’s what we’re going to give him,” Bryant said, “and play football.”
Bryant said owner/general manager Jerry Jones gave him and other leaders on the team a heads up that Sam would be signed, and Bryant expects all his teammates will show him respect as they would any other addition.
He said the team will continue to focus on football, and whatever Sam needs, his teammates will be there for him. Bryant said he doesn’t see a reason to make it a bigger deal than that, and that’s likely how Sam wants it.
“I’m the type of person, I’m not going to judge anybody or do nothing like that,” Bryant said. “You need any help, ask me about anything, I’m going to let you know.
“No different from any other player, he’s here to help us. That’s why we brought him here.”
The rest of the Cowboys players voiced similar opinions about welcoming Sam as a football addition. Jason Witten said there’s been so much of an investment in preparing for an NFL season that that’s where the focus is and has to be.
“I don’t really see that being any distraction, and I think everybody understands it’s just in hopes of making our football team better,” Witten said. “That’s all we can try to do, for all of us. Really, that’s been our mindset since Day 1. We’re going to compete. We’re going to challenge each other. We’re going to practice hard. And then hopefully that carries over to Sundays, where we play better football.”
Here’s more from Cowboys players after the signing of Sam to the practice squad:
Jeremy Mincey: “Sam is a pretty good athlete, man – he’s got some pretty good rushes. He listens to what coach wants, and that’s all we can ask of him. Come out here and cooperate and do what he’s supposed to do.”
J.J. Wilcox – “I’m excited. He’s a great football player. I don’t take nothing away from him, and I have nothing against him. If he can help me win, I’m all in.”
Anthony Spencer – “Every time I’ve seen him, he’s been playing football. When I watch film, he’s doing things that can help this football team win games. He’s here to help us win – that’s the main objective, and that’s all there is to it.”
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