Sunday , August 28 2016

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

League Made Deal with Rams to Draft Sam

It’s been almost two years since the St. Louis Rams selected defensive end Michael Sam in the seventh round of the 2014 draft. At the time, the Rams were hailed for being progressive and drafting the first openly gay player in the National Football League. It turns out, according to multiple sources, that the league agreed not to ask the Rams to appear that year on HBO’s yearly summer series, HARD KNOCKS, if they drafted Sam.

Shortly after his college career at Missouri ended, Sam came put publicly, acknowledging he is gay. The SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, Sam was considered a fifth-round pick at best. But, as the draft proceeded on the final day, it appeared he might not be drafted at all. It is believed the NFL didn’t want to face questions about that eventuality, and the Rams were viewed as the ideal spot because of St. Louis’ proximity to the Missouri campus in Columbia, 90 miles away, and head coach Jeff Fisher’s ability to deal with whatever distractions there might be.

So it was that the Rams saved the day, selecting Sam with the 249th pick of a 256-player draft. Now, they have returned the favor.

Two years later, the Rams are now in Los Angeles, and as the annual league meeting closed Wednesday, in one of the earliest announcements ever, the NFL revealed that the Rams will be the featured team this summer on HARD KNOCKS.

It’s no surprise the league wants to showcase the return to a market that has been without a team since 1994. What’s somewhat odd, but understandable in light of the revelation, is that the Rams are now embracing the intrusion of HBO’s cameras in a year in which the distractions and logistics of the move will be a challenge for the organization, coaches and players. Especially since Rams head coach Jeff Fisher has consistently been opposed to having his team on the show.

In fact, in 2014, about two weeks after the draft and the selection of Sam, Fisher was asked about the possibility of the league picking the Rams for the TV show. If no team volunteers to be a part of HARD KNOCKS, the league can pick a team that hasn’t been on the show for 10 years, or doesn’t have a new head coach, or hasn’t made the playoffs for two years. The Rams qualified on all counts.

Fisher said, “We are eligible, but I think it’s highly unlikely they’d ask us to do it. I think this organization has a right to go through training camp with some normalcy.”

Of course, that “normalcy” included a record number of press conferences for a seventh-round draft pick, plus having an ESPN report late in training camp in which teammates were asked about their shower habits and those of Sam. By a woman reporter, Josina Anderson.

And, as if there will be any “normalcy” this offseason, training camp and regular season. In a press release announcing the decision, Fisher said, “This is an exciting time for our franchise. HARD KNOCKS will be an outstanding way to bring our fans into our training camp and preseason, and give a glimpse of the hard work and dedication of our players, coaches and staff as we prepare for the 2016 season.”

Of course, none of those players will be Sam, who was waived in the cutdown to 53 players in 2014, was briefly on the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad that season, and then left the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League in the summer of 2015 without playing in a game.

One player still with the Rams is defensive end Ethan Westbrooks, who earned a roster spot as an undrafted free agent the same year as Sam. His story is an interesting postscript to the Sam saga. The Rams were high on Westbrooks, and he was apparently the team’s target for one of their two late seventh-round picks. However, center Demetrius Rhaney was selected one spot after Sam, as it would have been unseemly to take Westbrooks there.

There is no direct evidence that the teams picking after the Rams were urged (told?) not to draft Westbrooks, but would anyone be surprised if that was the case as a thank-you to the Rams for taking everyone off the hook?

After all, Westbrooks received an unusually large $20,000 signing bonus in addition to having $30,000 of his first-year salary guaranteed. In the world of the NFL, that’s not a large sum of money. What’s notable is that the $50,000 total guarantee was more than the slotted signing bonus/guaranteed money of $45,896 that all of the seventh-round compensatory picks received, including Sam.

In addition, to steer attention away from Westbrooks as it related to any obvious competition initially with Sam, the Rams announced when signing him that the lanky, 267-pound player was a defensive tackle.

Normal, indeed.

  • Art0fWAR

    Liberal corruption has no bounds.

    • mistersmith22

      This story is obviously bullshit. And you’re a dickhead.

    • jmr012

      Right-wing dips#!ttery is what’s truly sickening.

  • Keith Rivas

    Second paragraph should say “coming out”, not “coming put”

  • RRyan

    This was all part of the deal to allow Kroenke to move the Rams to LA. Everyone in St. Louis knows this.

    • MoDans

      My thoughts, exactly.

  • Quantez Williams

    This is terrible writing. On the one hand, you imply that The Rams did drafted Sam in order to avoid going on “Hard Knocks”; and on the other, you suggest that the NFL returned the favor by putting them on the show they were trying to avoid in the first place.

    What is more, if the Rams were trying to avoid distractions from Hard Knocks, they were sure to get as many, if not more from having Michael Sam there.

    The tangent about Westbrooks makes no sense. “By a woman reporter, Josina Anderson” is not a sentence.

    You need to get better writers.

    • Breen Dix

      You’re correct. It’s poorly written. The implication is supposed to be that the Rams agreed to 2016 Hard Knocks in exchange for the LA relocation vote — which is burying the lede…which is the reverse ‘solid’ when the NFL supposedly passed the 2014 Hard Knocks cup by the Rams for drafting Sams (but which was supposedly also paid off by an NFL “do not draft” order on Westbrooks).

      • Marc Lillibridge

        That’s not the implication at all. Never once does this article talk or broach move to L.A. Re-read article or listen to our radio show.

        • Breen Dix

          The article says that two years ago the Rams wanted to avoid Hard Knocks so badly that they intentionally wasted a draft pick to do the league a favor. And they were already compensated for it in a backhanded way. Now, they are embracing Hard Knocks (earliest announcement ever), which, to me, implies they now owe the league a favor. A favor for what, pray tell?

          No, you didn’t say that outright. But how else are we expected to connect those dots?

    • Jersey Shore

      well said

  • Vreid

    My Grandfather smoked his whole life. I was about 10 years old when my mother said to him, ‘If you ever want to see your grandchildren graduate, you have to stop immediately.’. Tears welled up in his eyes when he realized what exactly was at stake. He gave it up immediately. Three years later he died of lung cancer. It was really sad and destroyed me. My mother said to me- ‘Don’t ever smoke. Please don’t put your family through what your Grandfather put us through.” I agreed. At 28, I have never touched a cigarette. I must say, I feel a very slight sense of regret for never having done it, because your article gave me cancer anyway.

    • Marc Lillibridge

      Did you graduate? Light ’em cowboy. You deserves a nice, long drag.

  • Dan0regon

    Most football players know it’s a better deal to not be drafted at all than to go in the 7th. More leverage in negotiating with teams for a signing bonus and finding a “fit.” Surprised the writer isn’t aware of this.

    • Marc Lillibridge

      This argument is entirely false. Every player wants to be drafted. Rarely are college free agents paid more than 20k to sign so there is barely leverage as an undrafted player. As a player, you hope to find a ‘fit’ but never a sure thing.

    • balcobomber25

      Most undrafted players are paid the league minimum which is 20-50,000 less than a 7th round pick will get, they also get about 20,000 less in signing bonus.

  • WminPhoenix

    Michael Sam did not make it into the NFL for the simple reason he was not good enough. A step too slow to be a linebacker, 40 lbs too light to be a defensive lineman.
    The road to the NFL is littered with guys who were Heisman, Outland or Butkus Trophy winners. Mike Sam just wasn’t NFL caliber player. Gay or straight, it doesn’t matter if you can’t make the cut. He should have stayed in the CFL to improve his skills. A player earns the right to play in the NFL, Sam seemed to want it given to him.

  • Frank

    I cannot believe this has turned into a story. This blog post is headlined “League made deal with Rams to draft Sam.” That’s a bold claim that you should give some evidence for, if you’re even going to pretend to have some journalistic integrity. So what evidence do you offer? A few words: “according to multiple sources…”

    Multiple sources? What sources? Is that phrase supposed to excuse you from giving us any reason to believe you? You didn’t even bother to claim that they wished to remain anonymous, that they work for the team or the league, or even that they’re well informed of team or league decisions. Balzer obviously just wanted to write a “what if this happened?!” story and threw those few words in there to make it seem like we should take it seriously.

    You should probably get better at fabricating things. If your bosses cared about your organization’s reputability, I would tell you to start with your résumé.

  • Jersey Shore

    If you’re going to make these type of assumptions you should be forced to reveal your sources. Otherwise anyone can say anything about anyone.

  • Jersey Shore

    My sources tell me Howard Balzer has a strange s3xual addiction with 100 year old women. My sources tell me he loves to spend weekends alone with residents of retirement communities and has been seen with many different 100 year old women.
    My sources tell me that.
    My old lady sources.