THIS JUST IN: Cowboys waive Michael Sam from practice squad.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 21, 2014
Defensive end Michael Sam is a free agent once again. After being drafted by the Rams, crushing the preseason, then getting inexplicably cut by a team that is DEAD LAST in sacks in the NFL, Sam was picked up by the Cowboys. Dallas added him to the practice squad, and rampaged to the best record in football before releasing Sam earlier on Tuesday (Dallas is itself not highly ranked in quarterback sacks). So the NFL’s first openly gay player is out there, waiting for another NFL team to call. Why not the Patriots?
Let’s be clear: If Sam signed with the Patriots, it would alleviate an actual football need. It would not be a move to merely satisfy the wish among many football fans for the first openly gay player to have a job in the league. And that’s been the point this entire time: He’s a good football player who also happens to be gay. The two things are independent from each other.
Sam, as has been well documented, was the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year as a senior last season in college football, recording 11.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. He proved himself a frontline pass-rusher in the NCAA’s version of Triple-A NFL (since the SEC is consistently the most talented conference in the college game). And of the past SEC Defensive Players of the Year, the list is littered with talented pro players, many of whom were drafted highly and started immediately.
Critics have fallen back on a common refrain: Oh, but maybe he just isn’t good enough against pro talent?
Except for the 2014 preseason, when he finished tied for third in the entire league in sacks, and maximized his limited opportunities, improving with each game. And yes, it was only the preseason, but where else was he supposed to showcase himself? It seems that the NFL is not willing to give him a chance on an actual team in an actual game.
Yet the Patriots have a special need for Sam’s pass-rushing capability. Though they are better statistically than St. Louis or Dallas, New England has been relying far too much on its starters. According to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones are playing almost every single defensive snap that the Patriots see. As has been pointed out before, that’s the opposite of the usual model to orchestrate a consistently effective pass rush.
Depth is needed. And Michael Sam could provide that. Roster spots are understandably difficult to ration between all of the apparently necessary personnel, but getting to the quarterback has time and again proven to be the most important aspect in a modern defense. One of the most effective people in all of college football last season, whose best skill is exactly what the Patriots need, is currently available. And they wouldn’t even have to trade for him.
The downside is almost non-existent. The upside could potentially be a valuable situational contributor on the defense.
Is that not worth it?
Featured image via Marcus Qwertyus, Creative Commons