Sam cut from Rams, but may still have NFL future

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Michael Sam's Uncertain (But Hopeful) NFL Future

By R.B. FALLSTROM

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Not long after Michael Sam waved to an adoring crowd at Missouri's season opener, he looked down at his cell phone.

It was 3 p.m. CT, the deadline for NFL teams to pare rosters to 53 players. And the Rams coach was talking to the players who didn't make the cut.

He headed into the locker room. At some point, his phone rang with the bad news: He didn't make the cut.

Twenty others were cut by the St. Louis Rams on Saturday, all of them mere footnotes. For Sam, it meant a roadblock in his journey to become the first openly gay player to make an NFL roster.

Over and over, coach Jeff Fisher said, it was purely a football decision.

"I will tell you this: I was pulling for Mike," Fisher said. "I really was, and I don't say that very often. Mike came in here and did everything we asked him to do."

The seventh-round draft pick projected confidence while scrutinized at least as closely as Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel. He's been cheered by athletes and celebrities, denigrated by just a few.

In the end, the defensive end couldn't make a team stocked with pass rushers and lost out to undrafted Ethan Westbrooks, who proved more productive and more versatile.

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Michael Sam - updated 3/22/15
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Sam cut from Rams, but may still have NFL future
Montreal Alouettes defensive lineman Michael Sam speaks to reporters after returning to practice with the Canadian Football League team Monday, June 29, 2015, in Montreal. Sam, the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team, could not make the roster of the St. Louis Rams and signed with Montreal. He left the Alouettes for what he said were personal reasons, but returned to the team this week. (AP Photo/Jimmy Golen)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 16: NFL player Michael Sam and fiance` Vito Cammisano attend the premiere of ABC's 'Dancing With The Stars' season 20 at HYDE Sunset: Kitchen + Cocktails on March 16, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 11: ***HOUSE COVERAGE*** Michael Sam at Azure Luxury Pool at The Palazzo in Las Vegas, NV on April 11, 2015. Credit: Erik Kabik Photography/Retna Ltd./MediaPunch/IPX
Jason Collins, left, and Michael Sam, right, attend the 26th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at the Waldorf Astoria on Saturday, May 9, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 09: Nominee Jason Collins, Chris Stone and Michael Sam attend the 26th Annual GLAAD Media Awards In New York on May 9, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for GLAAD)
ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 06: NFL player Michael Sam attends the SEC Championship game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Missouri Tigers at the Georgia Dome on December 6, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 16: Vito Cammisano and NFL player Michael Sam attend The 2014 ESPYS at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on July 16, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images For ESPYS)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 16: NFL player Michael Sam accepts the Arthur Ashe Courage Award onstage during the 2014 ESPYS at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on July 16, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Defensive End Michael Sam, from Missouri, runs through a drill during the NFL Super Regional Combine football workout, Sunday, March 22, 2015, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Dallas Cowboys practice squad player defensive end Michael Sam speaks to reporters after team practice at the team's headquarters Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, in Irving, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Defensive end Michael Sam, from Missouri, moves around a pylon during the NFL Super Regional Combine football workout, Sunday, March 22, 2015 in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Dallas Cowboys Michael Sam, center, talks on the field before the start of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Dallas Cowboys' Michael Sam laughs before an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Dallas Cowboys practice squad player defensive end Michael Sam (46) looks around the field during team practice Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, in Irving, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
EARTH CITY, MO - MAY 13: St. Louis Rams draft pick Michael Sam addresses the media during a press conference at Rams Park on May 13, 2014 in Earth City, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - AUGUST 28: Defensive end Michael Sam #96 of the St. Louis Rams warms up prior to action against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on August 28, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 16: Defensive end Michael Sam #96 of the St. Louis Rams in action during the preseason game against the Green Bay Packers at Edward Jones Dome on August 16, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 8: Michael Sam #96 of the St. Louis Rams watches from the bench during the second half of a pre-season against the New Orleans Saints game at the Edward Jones Dome on August 8, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Saints beat the Rams 26-24. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dallas Cowboys practice squad player defensive end Michael Sam (46) runs a drill during team practice Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, in Irving, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 24: Former Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam looks on during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 24, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
The most worthwhile things in life rarely come easy, this is a lesson I've always known. The journey continues.
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Robin Roberts talks to Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, the first openly gay player who might be drafted into the NFL, on GOOD MORNING AMERICA, airing WEDNESDAY, MAY 7 (7-9am, ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Ida Mae Astute/ABC via Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 24: Former Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam takes part in positions drills during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 24, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 24: Former Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam looks on during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 24, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 22: Former Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam speaks to the media during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 22, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
FILE - In this Sept. 8, 2012 file photo, Missouri's Michael Sam (52) runs onto the field along with their teammates before the start of an NCAA college football game against Georgia in Columbia, Mo. Sam was selected in the seventh round, 249th overall, by the St. Louis Rams in the NFL draft Saturday, May 10, 2014. The Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year last season for Missouri came out as gay in media interviews this year. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 15, 2014, file photo, Missouri's All-American defensive end Michael Sam claps during the Cotton Bowl trophy presentation at halftime of an NCAA college basketball game between Missouri and Tennessee in Columbia, Mo. Sam was selected in the seventh round, 249th overall, by the St. Louis Rams in the NFL draft Saturday, May 10, 2014. The Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year last season for Missouri came out as gay in media interviews this year. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson, File)
Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam (52) warms up before the Cotton Bowl NCAA college football game against Oklahoma State, Friday, Jan. 3, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tim Sharp)
FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2013, file photo, Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam takes up his position during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M in Columbia, Mo. Sam was selected in the seventh round, 249th overall, by the St. Louis Rams in the NFL draft Saturday, May 10, 2014. The Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year last season for Missouri came out as gay in media interviews this year. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam (52) reacts after Auburn fumbled and Missouri recovered during the first half of the Southeastern Conference NCAA football championship game, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
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Fisher believes Sam has an NFL future, and it still could be with the Rams. If he's not picked up by another team, he could land on the St. Louis practice squad.

"I can't go there right now," Fisher said. "Coaches don't talk about practice squads because we have to see what happens. We'll know better tomorrow afternoon."

Wherever he lands, Fisher said "there will be no challenge, no challenges whatsoever."

"He's not about drawing attention to himself," Fisher said. "He kept his head down and worked and you can't ask anything more out of any player for that matter."

On Twitter, roughly an hour after he was cut, Sam wrote "The most worthwhile things in life rarely come easy, this is a lesson I've always known. The journey continues."

He also thanked the Rams and city of St. Louis on Twitter, adding that he looks forward to a long and successful career.

Sam was introduced to the Missouri crowd in the end zone alongside defensive E.J. Gaines, a sixth-round pick who made the team. He blew a kiss and waved before returning to the sideline, then posed for a few pictures before starting to look at his phone, and then headed for the locker room.

Fisher personally delivered the news to the 20 others released in meetings Friday and Saturday, but didn't seem to mind that Sam was out of town, visiting his alma mater. The conversation was perfunctory, with plans for a face-to-face meeting on Sunday.

"He said 'Yes sir,' and he said, 'I understand.' He said, 'Thanks for the opportunity,' and I said, 'Mike, I'm looking forward to visiting with you tomorrow,' and he goes, 'I am, too.'"

Sam was the SEC co-defensive player of the year at Missouri and had been projected as a mid-round draft pick. His stock fell after a poor combine showing not long after he came out as gay in February, and the Rams took him with the 249th overall pick out of 256.

He kissed his boyfriend as a national television audience looked on, and arrived brimming with confidence and with a quick retort for anyone who contended he was in the NFL only because he came out. Fisher was proud to have made the landmark pick, but made clear from the start that Sam would be judged on talent.

The cameras followed, but the extra attention did not seem to faze Sam or his teammates. Veteran defensive end Chris Long noted rosters are always made up of players from different backgrounds. Players said Sam was part of their family.

Sam shed weight before training camp to be faster for special teams duty, reporting at 257 pounds. But after the preseason opener, Fisher said he'd have to make the team based on defensive end play.

Sam came out publicly following his final season at Missouri, though he had told his teammates before it began. It was no distraction. Missouri tied the school record with 12 wins and won the SEC Eastern Division and Sam had 11 1-2 sacks.

Sam was lightly regarded out of Hitchcock, Texas, a town of about 7,000 along the Gulf Coast about 40 miles southeast of Houston. His first two years at Missouri, Sam backed up Aldon Smith and Jacquies Smith, both of whom are in the NFL.

From the start, teammates seemed to like having Sam around. His energy was infectious and, if there were problems, they stayed behind closed doors. Publicly, Sam was just another late-round pick trying to make the Rams, which, like other NFL teams, held sensitivity training early in camp. The Oprah Winfrey Network put off a planned documentary on Sam, saying it would allow him to focus on his dream.

At one point, Sam's Rams jersey was the No. 2 seller among rookies online, trailing only Cleveland's Johnny Manziel, and Sam was among just 10 draftees selected by the NFL to be featured on commemorative coins. Sam headed to the ESPY Awards to pick up the Arthur Ashe Courage award. He got a hug from Hall of Famer Jim Brown on his way to the stage and fought back tears throughout his speech.

He told the audience: "Great things can happen when you have the courage to be yourself."

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