While there certainly is a level of disappointment among some NFL fans that Michael Sam didn't make the St. Louis Rams 53-man roster, it was simply a numbers game. Sam was drafted by a team with one of the deepest defensive lines in the NFL, and then had the unfortunate luck on top of that to have an undrafted rookie (Ethan Westbrooks) play out of his mind during preseason. There were just too many obstacles to overcome.
However, Sam played well enough to prove he has the talent to play in the NFL, even if it will take time to realize it. Plenty of teams will take a look at the tape and could come away feeling that they can do something with Sam. His best fit is a 4-3 defense, and about half the teams use it as a base defense, but he could fit into some teams 3-4, if they are willing to work with him or are in need of an edge pass rusher.
Who might be interested in acquiring Sam?
Here are a few options.
St. Louis Rams Practice Squad
Other NFL teams have until noon on Sunday before the Rams can put Sam on their practice squad, which might be what coach Jeff Fisher is gambling will be the case. The Rams were the only team to chuck convention and ignore the dreaded "D" word (that's distraction), and while Jeff Fisher insists he hasn't been a distraction, teams might still be worried.
In which case, Sam gets on the practice squad in St. Louis and hopes that he gets his shot in a year or two. Chris Long has a contract which runs until the end of 2016 (per Spotrac.com), and while the most expensive it gets is $13.2 million this season and drops to $8 million next year, it pops back up to $9.75 for the final year. The Rams might want to restructure or could decide to go in another direction either before that last season or after it.
Meanwhile, Robert Quinn is a free agent 2015, when he is costing just under $7 million. He'll cost a heck of a lot more when he hits free agency, if the Rams let that happen.
If either of these players price themselves out of the Rams' budget, a guy like Sam should have developed enough to help defray any impact if one or the other departs.
This might not be the best spot for Sam to land in, for the same reasons it was a bad spot in some respects when he was drafted by the Rams to begin with. Long and Quinn could be in St. Louis long term, so opportunities could be hard to come by.
After cutting Kenneth Boatright, Caeser Rayford and Dartwan Bush (whom they had listed as a tackle anyway), the Dallas Cowboys have just four defensive ends. That's including rookie Demarcus Lawrence, who broke his right foot back in July and might end up on the injured reserve/designated for return list on Tuesday according to The Dallas Morning News' Rainer Sabin. As Sabin points out, that puts Lawrence out until Week 7 at least.
We already know the Cowboys are low on pass rushers, and that's pretty much Sam's strength right now. While the Cowboys have multiple tackles they could plug in if need be, they would be better off with a pure pass rusher who could also contribute on special teams.
Sam would have plenty of chances to get on the field and improve not just his pass rushing skills, but his run stopping as well, which is a weakness. Of course, that weakness will keep him from being a three-down player at first.
However, more than anything, Dallas needs pass-rushing and that is something Sam can absolutely do.
While the schematic fit isn't ideal, the Colts cut three of their four UDFA linemen, two of which (Gannon Conway and Tyler Hoover) were defensive ends. That leaves Cory Redding backed up only by Ricky Jean-Francois. Both Redding and Jean-Francois looked solid in preseason but Jean-Francois isn't usually all that reliable and Redding is 33.
Some new blood wouldn't be a bad thing, and Sam could be a big help in pass rushing.
The Colts are traditionally bad at run defense, so Sam wouldn't help there but he could come in as a situational pass-rusher while developing the rest of his game.
Since a lot of the rest of the potential defensive lineman depth is filled by UDFA, it's certainly worth a look for the Colts, who need some help against guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning if they want to make it far in the playoffs.
New England Patriots
With Bill Belichick, you can never tell what will get his ears to perk up.
The New England Patriots cut four defensive linemen while cutting their roster down to 53, and according to the latest depth chart at ESPN.com, have just one backup at each defensive end spot.
That's not the end of the world, but they could certainly use more help there as well, especially since the defensive line struggled at times in the preseason (save for starters Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich), per Pro Football Focus.
We know the Patriots almost never stand pat on their initial 53-man roster and they love to find diamonds in the rough. Belichick likes his role players as well, and isn't afraid to grab guys who he thinks can produce short-term value while developing into bigger factors long-term.
As is the case on any of these teams, Sam could provide value in a situational role, while also stepping in on special teams.
New York Jets
This would be the other odd scheme fit, as the New York Jets run a base 3-4, though in reality coach Rex Ryan mixes things up so much it's pretty much a giant defensive amoeba where "base" is really code for "something we do on occasion, but not really."
The Jets kept six defensive linemen, making them deep at the position group Sam would be fighting for snaps in. However, three of the players (Damon Harrison, Kenrick Ellis and T.J. Barnes) are nose tackles. Sheldon Richardson (last season's Defensive Rookie of the Year) has nobody listed behind him (according to ESPN's depth chart), and backup Leger Douzable -- while solid -- is also 28 and is about as good as he'll ever get.
Sam could come in and help a pass rush which can never get enough help given how much pressure head coach Rex Ryan wants to bring.
There is another thing that makes this seem like a great fit to me.
Sam strikes me as the type of player both Ryan and GM John Idzik would drift towards. For Ryan, it's a chance to mold a pass-rusher into something more than he already is. A hard working guy with a lot of potential whom Ryan can "fix" -- something he loves to do with players.
Meanwhile, Sam fits the Idzik mold of "hungry, hard-working player." As happened in Seattle, Idzik has filled the Jets roster with a ton of players with upside and let the best men win. While there were jobs that were safe on both offense and defense, he added a lot of players at the bottom of the draft and in free agency who were hungry for a chance. The Seahawks did that a few years back -- that "king of the mountain" style of roster building gave them a championship.
Could Idzik look at Sam and think "here's a guy with a chip on his shoulder, someone who will bleed for us on the field"?
It seems likely to me.
Ultimately there are a ton of teams who could be interested in Sam. He has a lot of upside, but he's far from a finished product. Like most late-round draft picks, he has a long way to go before he can become a starter, if he ever gets there.
Still, he played well in preseason and there is enough good tape for me to believe some team will take a chance on him and, if they can make the math work, bring him on.