There are a lot of people who have made their minds about what they think of the reports that Michael Sam is going to be signed to the Dallas Cowboys practice squad, pending the results of his physical. Some of them are convinced that this is latest sign of the coming apocalypse, while others feel this is an earth-shattering advancement in social equality.
While this is certainly a moment of some historical note, and a bit of a personal triumph for one of the many prospective players who was wondering if his dreams of playing pro ball were about to disappear, for the Cowboys, it is something else: The next step in looking anywhere and everywhere they can to find someone, anyone, who can get to the quarterback.
Sam's sexuality is not at all relevant to that. The fact that he had a good preseason, notching three sacks and eleven tackles in four games, is.
If you are interested in what this may mean in a broader societal context, I suggest you read the article on this at the SB Nation site Outsports. But note that even while they speak of what it means for a prominent NFL team located in the heart of conservative territory to bring in the first openly gay player in the league for their practice squad, they also reference the fact that this is first and foremost about trying to improve the team.
The Cowboys were always a potential great fit for Sam on the field. They currently have five defensive ends on the active roster, the fifth of which is Lavar Edwards whom they acquired in a trade from Tennessee this weekend. They also have DE Kenneth Boatright on the practice squad. Edwards graded out at -1.7 by Pro Football Focus in the preseason; Sam graded at +0.6.
Somewhat lost in all of this is that the Cowboys are basically taking Sam for an extended test drive. Assuming he will pass the physical, he is going to get to practice with the team and get a chance to prove he is a better edge rusher than someone already on the roster. There is no guarantee that this will happen, or that he will retain his spot on the PS. He is just getting the chance to show the coaches what he has.
In all likelihood, those coaches are really, really hoping that he has something to show them. During the preseason, the Cowboys were unable to generate any consistent pressure off the edge with their defensive line. When the Cowboys were preparing for the draft, Sam did not appeal to the team very much, as Jerry Jones explained.
"We were thinking about him," Jones said during a post draft press conference in May, "but when we looked we had to be real careful there in the 4-3 (defense)...a real tweener is a dilemma for us. It's obvious that guy can be an outside linebacker and can go inside and put his hand down again. But he was that tweener, and we felt like we had gone up and drafted - and paid a high price to go up and draft DeMarcus Lawrence because we felt like he was the closest thing to having a better chance of putting his hand down at that time."
Since then, of course, Lawrence has gone on IR/designated to return, players like Henry Melton and Terrell McClain, who were counted on to help with the pass rush, have missed all the preseason games, and no real solution has emerged at edge rusher. Suddenly, that "tweener" problem might just not be such a big deal after all.
And of all the franchises in the NFL, there is none that is more capable of handling the inevitable furor and attention that will come with Sam than the Cowboys. Jones is already the biggest media glutton of all the NFL owners. He and the entire organization will take this largely in stride (although I suspect Jason Garrett is not going to enjoy all the questions coming his way on this). Plus there will likely be a dollar or two to make off of things like Sam jersey sales (remember, the Cowboys are the only team in the NFL that keeps all the money from their own merchandise.)
That does raise the question of whether Jerry Jones may have gone over the heads of his coaching and scouting staffs to make this happen. And frankly, it looks to be a valid one.
Important note on #Cowboys signing of Michael Sam: The decision went as high as possible in the organization. A Jerry Jones call.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 2, 2014
Now, the decision going to Jerry Jones could have happened in a couple of ways. He might have gone to the staff and said "Hey, why don't we bring this Sam fella in here to give him a shot?" Or, the staff might have gone to him with the same question. That part of the story will likely come out, or at least Jerry's version of it, in the next day or two.
Frankly, if the owner and general manager is going to make a call like this, doing it to acquire a player for the recently expanded practice squad is certainly the least damaging option. Dallas did not expend anything at all to get a look at him, other than the opportunity to look at someone else. And right now, it is hard to find anyone that is available and would offer more than Sam appears to.
This looks like a win-win situation all around. Sam gets to keep his NFL dream afloat a little longer, the Cowboys might find some badly needed help on defense, and Jones gets to hog a little more of the media spotlight. Assuming any decisions about what to do with Sam next are based on objective evaluations of his performance in practice, there is nothing here to complain about. At least, from a football perspective.