Did the NFL Make a Deal with the Rams to Draft Michael Sam and Avoid Going on Hard Knocks in 2014?

Stephen Douglas
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The Los Angeles Rams will be the featured team on the 2016 edition of HBO’s Hard Knocks. According to Howard Balzar of 590 The Fan in St. Louis, the team would have been forced to participate in the 2014 edition of the series if they hadn’t drafted openly gay defensive end Michael Sam.

The Rams took Sam with the 249th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Balzar says the NFL wanted the Rams to take Sam because of their proximity to The University of Missouri. Then, there’s this:

"One player still with the Rams is defensive end Ethan Westbrooks, who earned a roster spot as an undrafted free agent the same year as Sam. His story is an interesting postscript to the Sam saga. The Rams were high on Westbrooks, and he was apparently the team’s target for one of their two late seventh-round picks. However, center Demetrius Rhaney was selected one spot after Sam, as it would have been unseemly to take Westbrooks there. There is no direct evidence that the teams picking after the Rams were urged (told?) not to draft Westbrooks, but would anyone be surprised if that was the case as a thank-you to the Rams for taking everyone off the hook? After all, Westbrooks received an unusually large $20,000 signing bonus in addition to having $30,000 of his first-year salary guaranteed. In the world of the NFL, that’s not a large sum of money. What’s notable is that the $50,000 total guarantee was more than the slotted signing bonus/guaranteed money of $45,896 that all of the seventh-round compensatory picks received, including Sam."

The obvious question: Why would it have been “unseemly” to take Westbrooks one spot after Sam? Why would the other 31 teams be OK just letting the Rams have him as an undrafted free agent? Why did the Cowboys, BEngals, Falcons and Texans not draft Westbrooks after Sam was taken?

Balzar goes on to insinuate that agreeing to Hard Knocks this year was part of what got the league to approve the Rams move to Los Angeles. Obviously, no one official will ever confirm this story, but it sounds so perfectly NFL.

The main takeaway from all this is that Hard Knocks most certainly considered a punishment around the league.

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