Today was supposed to be the day that Michael Sam made his CFL debut as his Montreal Alouettes visited the Ottawa Redblacks. Today was supposed to be his first step towards an NFL comeback. Today was supposed to be a lot of things.
But late Friday, Michael Sam left Montreal Alouettes camp for what the team described as “personal reasons”.
“With all due respect for Michael Sam, the nature of this decision will remain confidential,” said the statement. “The Montreal Alouettes fully respect Michael Sam’s decision and rally around him to offer him all time and support needed. The team has left the door open and Michael is welcome to come back whenever he feels ready.”
I don’t think his absence will affect his status with the Alouettes. I don’t think missing one, or even both, of Montreal’s exhibition games will derail a possible NFL comeback. Why?
Because his size and speed are enough of a challenge to overcome.
Leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft, just before the NFL Combine, every single social media outlet and news source in America was scrambling to break the news that would change Michael Sam’s life forever.
Sam, a defensive end out of the University of Missouri who was voted Associated Press’s co-SEC defensive player of the year (DPOY), was gay. He was about to become the first openly gay player in the NFL. At that point and time, Sam didn’t know the magnitude of his announcement, or the firestorm that would later head his way.
Whether or not Sam’s announcement was a factor in where he landed, no one will ever truly know. What we do know, however, is that film speaks a hell of a lot more about who you can be on the field than your sexual orientation. For scouts and general managers, this became the priority with evaluating Sam.
Sure, there’s a reason college football coaches awarded him the honor of co-Defensive Player of the Year and the media gave him SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, he led the SEC in tackles and tackles for a loss in 2014.
But if you go back and watch the tape, most of his production came from mediocre opponents. In his final half-dozen games where he faced the upper echelon of talent in college football, Sam didn’t have a single “big” play. He’s absolutely coachable, but he fails all too often for zone-read play-fakes and recognizing screens. On top of that, he doesn’t have enough pass rush moves in his repertoire to be successful at the professional level.
Fast forward a few weeks, when it came out that he’d star in a possible documentary series on the Oprah Winfrey Network, being released by the St. Louis Rams who drafted him, and a short stint with the Dallas Cowboys, Michael Sam found himself everywhere but on an NFL roster.
Now, he’s got another shot with an alternative route to the only professional sport whose commissioner, according to Joe Horn, is a devil… through Canada.
Michael Sam has signed a two-year contract with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, but is it a match made in heaven? If Sam is going to survive in the CFL and have any chance at a return to the NFL, Sam will have to show two things up north: speed and production.
I generally try to remain positive, but I’m not so sure speed is something Michael Sam will be able to fix. He ran the 40-yard dash in 5.07 seconds at the NFL’s Veteran Combine a few months ago and judging by his remarks at the introductory press conference, he may not be willing to put in the work it will take to even have a chance at an NFL comeback:
“I’m just here to play football. I’m not trying to do anything historic. I’m just trying to help the team win games.”
Cameron Wake played for the CFL’s British Columbia Lions from 2007-2008, and compiled 39 sacks. Sam’s path back to the NFL could look a lot like Wake, who secured a spot on the Miami Dolphins’ roster and has contributed in a big way to their defensive line.
If Michael Sam can get that kind of production, he’ll have a shot at a comeback… but that’s a very big if.
In my opinion, I just don’t see Sam having enough success in two season to make the jump back to the NFL, he’ll have to have several years of steady production as well prove to NFL front offices that he’s all business and not let his off-the-field drama interfere. When you go back and watch the tape, ‘mediocre at best’ says all that needs to be said.
As if not having enough pass-rushing moves doesn’t hurt him enough, Sam is a huge liability in the run game — often failing to set the edge and more often than not, being cut by offensive lineman. Even fullbacks can more than hold their own against him.
He’ll always be a project player regardless, but because of his size and his lack of being a true fit at any position, Sam’s best shot at an NFL comeback will be if he becomes an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense instead of playing the 4-3 defensive end spot. As I mentioned, his run game woes are a huge reason for this but so it his size and his inability to be fluid in his hips, he plays quite stiff for someone who is supposed to be agile at evading blockers.
I’m not saying it isn’t possible, I’m also not saying there’s that great of a chance, but a long career in Canada where Sam can re-develop his craft and prove his durability and versatility along with a position change is his best chance at getting another shot.