The 2014 NFL Draft: Sealed With a Kiss
From Johnny Manziel's long wait on Thursday to Michael Sam's dramatic moment on Saturday, this year's NFL draft will go down in history. Plus, an NFC GM continues his trade prowess and a Ram infiltrates the Falcons' draft room
Where do you start after a weekend like this? Choose one:
- The Michael Sam saga, which couldn’t have been more dramatic if the Coen brothers had scripted it.
- The Johnny Manziel story, which blew every sports story out of the water for two days. Wait until you hear his Twitterverse dominance. It’s something like you’ve never seen.
- The Browns. The rags-to-riches-to-rags, bizarro-world, “Factory of Sadness” 24 hours that no Dawg Pounder will ever forget.
- Jerry Jones, 71, growing up before our very eyes.
- Buffalo going for broke, all in, chips to the center, and whatever other blah-blah-blah poker analogies you want to use about Doug Whaley putting his job on the line in his first full year as a GM.
- Damn these ridiculous, incredible, sick NFL draft TV ratings. The May draft might be here to stay. (#Sadface. #Giveusbackourspring.) Congrats to Jacksonville GM David Caldwell not only for drafting his quarterback of the future (the Jags hope), but also for putting the late draft into perspective and hoping Roger Goodell is listening. “I’m all for whatever is good for the league,” he said Saturday, “but I haven’t seen any indication that pushing the draft back is good for football. It sure didn’t help us at all.”
- It’s Trent Baalke’s drafting world, and we’re only visiting it.
- Footsteps by Jimmy Garoppolo. Tom Brady shakes.
My pick: Sam. An emotional, cool, explosive moment, with Sam getting the call from Rams GM Les Snead telling him he’d been drafted with the 249th pick. “Man, was he emotional,” Snead said Sunday morning. “I could feel it over the phone.” Snead handed the phone to coach Jeff Fisher, with Sam tearing up and slowly, slowly, slow folding over and weeping, his male partner there to comfort him. On national TV. It’s a scene we haven’t seen in American TV history (and certainly not in American sports history), thankfully running unedited and uninterrupted by ESPN. And then Sam kissed the man. The world is changing, and the Rams and Sam and the NFL and ESPN made a seminal moment of it Saturday. If you think that moment of Sam bending over and audibly weeping isn’t going to be replayed scores of times for sporting and societal reasons, you’re wrong. Way wrong.
“I could feel the pivot in history at that moment, with that phone call,” Snead said.
Late Saturday night, after the Rams finished signing their undrafted free agents, Fisher and COO Kevin Demoff sat in the coach’s office and read through the messages and Tweets of support. They read these words from President Obama: “From the playing field to the corporate boardroom, LGBT Americans prove everyday that you should be judged by what you do and not who you are.” And this Tweet from Ellen Degeneres: “So proud of the @STLouisRams for showing there’s nothing to be afraid of.” And this from singer John Legend: “Congratulation to Michael Sam. It’s a victory for love.” And this from former Saint and current ALS beacon Steve Gleason: “Great moment in US sports history.”
Fisher and Demoff were moved by the reaction. “It was a reminder of the power of the NFL,” Demoff said, “and how we could use the power for something good.”
“I wish I could have digested it and take it all in,” said Snead. “I’ve never been part of a decision that brought people to tears. But I couldn’t really embrace the moment, because we were so close to the end of the draft, and we had to mute the TV so we could get going on our undrafted free-agent class.”
Sam will have a huge task ahead of him. Want the good news? Of the 53 men on St. Louis’ opening-day roster last year, 18 entered the league undrafted, and another three were seventh-round picks. And new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams loves the desperate underdog; a seventh-rounder on any roster is an underdog. The bad news: Incumbent ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long are franchise cornerstones, and sub William Hayes is a productive rusher. Those three are set in stone. There will be either one or two more defensive ends kept, and Sam was the only one drafted. It won’t help Sam that he probably won’t be a good special-teams player because his mediocre flexibility and quick-twitch movement. He’ll have to star in camp and the preseason as what Snead labels the “DPR”—designated pass-rusher.
But he’ll have a chance. And the Rams are perhaps the best spot for him. It’s two hours from where he went to school, and the media is largely friendly, and wherever he went Wolf Blitzer or Anderson Cooper would have been part of the early days of training camp. The Rams know it, and Jeff Fisher can handle it. I will be surprised if Sam’s fate with the Rams is determined on anything other than whether he can be productive rushing the passer.