Michael Sam could still become the first openly gay player to take the field in an NFL regular season game, even after last weekend. Sam was signed to the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad on Wednesday.
In his regularly scheduled press conference on Wednesday, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett acknowledged that the team didn’t initially draft Sam, but said: “Like a ton of players around this league, we evaluate these guys all throughout the pre-season.” He said: “One of the things [Sam] got caught up in St Louis is they have a really good defensive line.”
Garrett repeatedly tried to redirect reporters away from questions about Sam. “I think we’ve probably talked too much about a practice squad player when all we’re trying to do is bring in a player to help our football team.”
“I’m excited to be to be joining Dallas, I just want to play football, it’s great to be heading back to my home state,” Sam on Tuesday night, after his arrival in Dallas.
In an press release, Sam added: “It’s been a rollercoaster this past week, but I’m happy where I’m at now … I’m just looking forward to being a Cowboy, my focus is on making the team.”
The Cowboys spent Tuesday calling players about Sam, though it is unclear what the content of those calls was.
NFL teams typically use , which can have up to 10 members, for developmental purposes, bringing along young players who are not yet ready to play significant roles on a team. Members of the squad practice with their teams during the week, but are not allowed to play in games unless they are first signed to the active roster.
Practice-squad members can be signed to any team’s active roster at any time, but can only transfer between squads if they are released by their current team.
Sam is a defensive end who was last year’s SEC co-defensive player of the year, while playing for the University of Missouri Tigers, and then for the Rams. The Rams released Sam on Saturday as it cut its active roster to the regular-season limit of 53 players. He became a free agent on Sunday, after no other team picked him up. The NFL season starts on Thursday.
Though most observers were not surprised to see Sam released by the Rams, who have strong options in his position, many NFL experts believed he had the talent to be on a team’s practice squad, and at least one wondered whether Sam had to wait longer to be signed to one because of his status as an openly gay man.
, for ESPN’s NFL Nation, wrote: “, the plan to add [Sam] to their practice squad Wednesday, but there is no concrete football answer for why it took so long – or why 16 other defensive ends signed practice squad contracts before the Cowboys expressed interest in Sam.
“In this case, it seems naive not to consider the impact of his status as the first openly gay man to be drafted into the NFL.”
The Rams coach, Jeff Fisher, said he released Sam because his team needed help in other positions due to injury concerns. He said he “” of Sam.