Michael Sam, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and the Rams' seventh-round pick last May, was released Saturday. He remains out of work, having been passed over for the Rams' -- and 31 other teams' -- practice squad.
In general, this wouldn't be a story -- seventh-round picks get cut all the time -- but Sam is the NFL's first openly gay player. And like it or not, fair or not, it is a story.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who was asked Monday why Sam cleared waivers and remains a free agent, said it had nothing to do with his sexuality.
"I doubt that seriously,” Caldwell said, according to the Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett, adding that he's "not really sure" why Sam is out of a job.
“He wasn't here on our squad, we didn't play against (the Rams) to have an opportunity to look at them,” Caldwell said. “But what I would assume is the case is the fact that he doesn't fit in with whomever's system, or anybody's system right now in terms of being able to come in and play for them at this point in time. If he could, if it benefits someone, and he still may. A lot of things happen here in the next three or four days, anyway. But he still may, he may still get that opportunity.”
During the February combine, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said that Sam, who is listed at 6-2 but ran a slow 40 time, didn't fit what the team looked for in its defensive linemen.
“I like our defensive ends a little bit longer,” Mayhew said at the time, via Birkett. “We like guys to be in the 6-3, 6-4 sort of range. He's not quite that. That's a little bit of a challenge for him, but we drafted Ronnell Lewis. But then again, that didn't work out.”
Days after the draft, Rams coach Jeff Fisher said that if Sam wasn't one of the 53 best players, he wouldn't make the team. Three months later, Fisher kept his word -- though he admits that he was pulling for Sam.
“Mike's got the ability," Fisher told TheMMQB.com's Peter King. "Mike played well. He has the ability to play some place. It's got to be the right place … It was a football decision back in May to draft Mike. And once again, it's been all about football. I will tell you this: I was pulling for Mike. I really was. I don't say that very often, but Mike came in here and did everything that we asked him to do. He got a chance to play a lot of snaps. He had the second most snaps on the defensive line, to Ethan Westbrooks.
"He had well over 120, 130 snaps and was productive," Fisher continued. "But as we said when we drafted Mike, this was going to be a tough road. Those four defensive ends that we have on the roster are good and they play a lot and they're very productive, as well as the tackles. It's the strength of our football team.''
@RossTuckerNFL blame that on espn. No one wants the distraction— Eric Wood (@EWood70) August 31, 2014
That's not the entire reason but the media's saturated coverage has certainly played a part. And some segments of the media have played a bigger role than others.