Michael Sam’s bid to earn a roster spot with the St. Louis Rams ended in failure, but another NFL franchise is interested in giving the league’s first openly gay player a chance to continue his professional career. The Dallas Cowboys announced on Wednesday that they have signed Sam to its practice squad.
Sam likely won't be called upon to contribute to the Cowboys defense in Week 1, but a spot on the practice squad has launched several successful NFL careers. Former NFL defensive player of the year James Harrison, Houston Texans running back and three-time Pro Bowler Arian Foster and New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola all spent time on a practice squad.
In most cases, players can only remain on the practice squad for two seasons. While the Cowboys will own Sam’s NFL rights and will have the ability to promote him to their roster at any time, any other team can offer him a contract, so long as they plan to name him to their active roster.
Sam won’t be paid the same salary as a fellow rookie who was named to Dallas’ active roster. The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement stipulates that practice squad players receive $6,300 per week during the season – a total of $107,100 for the season. If Sam is promoted to the active roster during the season, he will receive a prorated version of the league’s $420,000 minimum salary for rookies.
Essentially, the practice squad allows each NFL team to carry an additional 10 players without declaring them as members of the team’s active roster. During the week, practice squad players are treated like any other member of the team; Sam will train, practice and eat with the Cowboys' active roster. However, Sam wouldn’t be able to play in an actual regular season game unless the Cowboys identify him as a member of their 45-man game-day roster, SB Nation notes.
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Sam – a seventh-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft – was dropped after a plethora of talent on the defensive line made it difficult for the Rams to retain his services. Sam then cleared waivers. In other words, he became a free agent, capable of being signed by any NFL team. Issues with depth on their defensive line prompted the Cowboys to extend an offer to Sam.
Participation on a practice squad has a few requirements. The unit is primarily restricted to players who have appeared in less than six regular-season NFL games. Each team is allowed to include two players who have two accrued seasons, meaning they appeared in at least six games per each year, in the league.