Thoughts On Michael Sam, His Announcement, and Phil Emery’s Response

michaelsamFirstly, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam’s announcement that he’s gay is a momentous occasion for American sports. I’m not sure that can be overstated. A lot of people I follow on Twitter filled my timeline with “I’ll be excited for when this sort of thing ISN’T news”, which struck me as code for “I don’t want to hear about this.” If you truly do want to see a time wherein this sort of announcement is commonplace and routine, then you must recognize that this is a major step toward that reality. We’re not to the point yet that this isn’t a big deal, and we were never going to get there without someone like Michael Sam.

If you needed a reminder of how hard things are going to be for Sam, the anonymous quotes from player personnel executives in Peter King’s SI piece have you covered. A sample:

‘“We talked about it this week,” the GM said. “First of all, we don’t think he’s a very good player. The reality is he’s an overrated football player in our estimation. Second: He’s going to have expectations about where he should be drafted, and I think he’ll be disappointed. He’s not going to get drafted where he thinks he should. The question you will ask yourself, knowing your team, is, ‘How will drafting him affect your locker room?’ And I am sorry to say where we are at this point in time, I think it’s going to affect most locker rooms. A lot of guys will be uncomfortable. Ten years from now, fine. But today, I think being openly gay is a factor in the locker room.”

I asked this general manager: “Do you think he’ll be drafted?”

“No,” he said.’

That strikes me as backwards thinking. The only way things like this will be more normal in ten years is if more players come out between now and then. This is the first step on that road. Furthermore, this anonymous GM cites the potential for a locker room distraction as a reason for not drafting Sam. This is a big enough talking point around the league that Jon Stewart did a segment on it last night, and it’s a shocking display of willful ignorance. There are obvious, storied examples of how integration actually creates a stronger cohesion. It happened with the racial integration of sports and the military, and when the military began allowing openly gay service members in 2011, there was no negative effect. We have specific examples of this exact “distraction” concern not actually mattering, and yet the same people persist with it as a way to avoid change. (I also have limited patience for anonymous quotes on topics like this.)

I agree with what Deadspin’s Drew Magary wrote here, that teams “would much prefer the headache of not drafting Sam to the headache of drafting him.” But the thing is, that potential headache is all perception! Manti Te’o was a headache too, but the Chargers took him and it disappeared. Riley Cooper’s story blew up for two weeks, but then he started catching touchdowns and no one cared. Sam’s story will obviously have more staying power, but there’s one big difference: it’s not a negative story. There will be more media attention, of course, but it won’t be for the wrong reasons. A team with any sort of basic competence with PR should be looking at this as a positive opportunity to embrace, not as a minefield to avoid. Hopefully there’s more than one team that views it that way.

With that out of the way, I feel like I’ve done Sam a bit of disservice by focusing entirely upon his sexuality. As a draft prospect, he should absolutely be evaluated based on his potential to perform on the field. (Obviously prospects are graded on intangibles, and off-field incidents can be red flags. But being gay isn’t a red flag, and by all accounts Sam was a quality locker room presence at Missouri.) What do the Bears think of Michael Sam? Phil Emery released a statement on Sam yesterday:

“Michael stated with great poise and confidence who he is as a person and football player and I have tremendous respect for him in the way he conveyed his thoughts and the courage it took to state them publicly,” Emery said in a statement. “Each and every player in the NFL is a unique individual, as we all are in life. We all ultimately gain respect in our jobs by how well we perform at our chosen profession and if the level in which we perform adds positively to the collective goal of success. Michael stated this and I agree with his thoughts,” Emery said. “It is about his skill set as a football player to add positively to a team’s goals and that’s how he will be evaluated.”

First of all, kudos to Emery and the Bears for that statement. Second, Sam is a consensus mid-round prospect; ESPN’s Scouts Inc. has him ranked 119 overall. I’m not sure how that anonymous GM from earlier could gather that he’s “overrated”; I suppose the fact that he won SEC defensive player of the year despite being a 4th-round prospect might factor in. But even though he isn’t likely to go early (and wasn’t likely to go early before his announcement) he absolutely should be drafted.

Does that mean the Bears should be interested? On one hand, I could see it; he’s a bit of a “tweener” as Michael C. Wright notes for ESPN Chicago. Sam played 4-3 defensive end in college, but he’s a bit undersized for the position. The Bears obviously value versatility, and their selection of Shea McClellin demonstrated Phil Emery’s willingness to go outside the box. The flip side to that, of course, is that McClellin has been a very big disappointment, having been unable to make the switches the Bears projected him to make. I’d think the Bears might take a look at Sam in that mid-round range, especially if he slides to to “concerns” about how big a “distraction” his presence might be. If he’s still available in the fifth or sixth round, there’s surplus value there, and I could see the Bears taking him.

If they do select him, I’m confident that it will be a decision based solely upon his football abilities. And since that’s good enough for Michael Sam, it’s good enough for me.

Jay Rigdon is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation Bears, and can also be found @BearsBN on Twitter.

154 responses to “Thoughts On Michael Sam, His Announcement, and Phil Emery’s Response”

  1. CP

    And….so it continues. Tomorrow will be WEEK 4 without a single update. Maybe there hasn’t been any news in the last MONTH. Oh wait, the combine, our own signings, other teams player cuts, the salary cap changes, our potential player cuts, etc…

    I understand and appreciate cats having full time jobs but no time to do an update in an entire MONTH? That I don’t get. Something even if it was “hey we ran into some challenges, likely won’t be able to have an update for the next month or so” would be nice.

    The silence and free pass are becoming frustrating.

    1. Jon

      + alot of league wide news today with players getting tagged, and of course this impacts the Bears. I

    2. Toby

      A big date is coming up with free agency starting on the 11th and I believe free agents can begin talking to teams a few days earlier. What will be interesting is: 1. If and when Peppers gets cut, 2. Which position will the Bears target in free agency and if that will impact the draft, and 3. Who else might end up a cap casualty (Bush)? I’m glad that the salary cap went up, even if slightly, for the Bears might be able to either add an additional free agent or offer a bit more money to another free agent. It’s nice that Bear’s fans don’t have to head into free agency hoping that the Bears address the offensive line. Long and Mill’s successful rookie year means that Emery can focus all of free agency on defense.

      1. mdavis

        defintely a big day. I just do not see any way Peppers is back. Not worth the $18 mil cap space. That should free up 9 mil. Same with Bush, thats another $3 mil. And then of course, any portion of Cutler’s deal can be convereted to a signing bonus to free up some cap space if they need it.

        There’s some interesting D-Ends on the market. Michael Johnson (CIN), M. Bennett (SEA), Justin Tuck (NYG). But a guy who you don’t hear much about, that kind of sounds like an Emery guy? Lamarr Houston (OAK). One of those “transcends schemes” type. But that being said I think he’s #3 on my list.

        DBs that are out there: Jarius Byrd, (too pricey prob, and I could see going to CLE), TJ Ward (too expensive probs) Sam Shields, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Malcom Jenkins, Donte Whitner, and more.

        Very deep pool, it’ll be interesting to see. I’m excited, past couple years the start of the new league year, Emery has made huge splashes. Wonder what he has up his sleeve.

        1. frank

          I can see them renegotiating Peppers’ deal–$9 M in dead money might be too much of a hit in their eyes–plus, they’d end up creating another hole to fill, and any of those guys on the market, if they can get them, would probably cost at least $8 or 9 million or more. Michael Johnson’s salary is over $11 M now, Michael Bennett’s cap hit is almost $5 M, and Justin Tuck is at $6 M now. Houston would be the cheapest of that group ($1 M cap hit now). Add that to Peppers’ dead money and you’re not that far ahead. Of course, it all depends on 2 things: how much Peppers will be willing to come down, and more importantly, whether they think Peppers is going to bounce back–even a bit–or decline even further.

          1. mdavis

            right, certainly something to consider. but another way to look at it is ok, they have $9m in dead money, plus say, $6m cap hit for one of those guys, is that $15m getting you more production? I think it may. If Peppers is willing to take a massive paycut (build in incentives to help him make back that money), then sure, why not. Worth a flyer. But pass rushers are expensive, so if you’re going to pay, they need to produce. I’d rather get a younger guy in there, bring back Wootton, and find a specialist type in round 3-5 to rotate in there, then pay $18 mil to Peppers for 7 sacks.

            1. mdavis

              and more i think of it, i think i’d really like to see them bring in Jenkins. He’s only 26, lots of experience, good in coverage. Regressed a little last year, so could come affordable. I just think Byrd and Ward will be too pricey, and Whitner concerns me with all the lumber he’s laid, bound to catch up with him.

              1. frank

                Agreed–they can’t pay Peppers $18 M for that kind of production. But Johnson, Bennett, and Tuck are going to ask for more than $6 M, given their current salaries–my guess is that it’ll cost closer to $9 M, and Johnson likely even more. Houston might go for around that $4-6 M deal, given that he’s at a $1 M salary now. I also think they have to bring back Wootton. Almost anyone at safety would be an improvement, I think, and Jenkins wouldn’t be a bad signing. I think they should look at Delmas, though he has been a bit injury prone.

                1. mdavis

                  right. going ot have to pony up for any of them, and i’d shy away a bit from Tuck. But even with those higher salaries and dead money, you’d at least hope the production would meet the cap hit. Not to mention when they structure the deal, they can do so limiting the cap hit in year 1, taking a bigger one year 2, etc. but that’s just me. Delmas strikes me as a bit of a freelancer. Goes for the big hit more than the ball, and doesn’t always stay true to the scheme which concerns me a bit. Either way, i’d look for them to bring in someone (well, i hope so anyways).

                  1. frank

                    That may be true about Delmas–kind of like Brandon Merriweather was–but not nearly as bad. Detroit’s defense, however, was much better with Delmas in than out. I think, with the dead money, Johnson will be too expensive–at an $11 M salary now, he’s probably looking for Peppers’ type money. If you pay Bennett, say, $7 to 9 M–with the dead money you’re paying $16 to 18 M to that position–what’s worth that money? 10 sacks? 12? And you still have to pay Wootton–not to mention Radcliffe and Melton, if they come back–though I’d hope Melton would be making less than his $8.4 M current cap hit. They might end up getting a safety in free agency, cutting Peepers and Melton loose, and drafting a tackle and an end. If they do get an end in free agency, I wouldn’t be surprised if they draft a safety with the 14th pick.

  2. Ed

    Anyone else notice the Bears BN shortcut removed from the Cubs site?

    1. frank

      Not until just now–it must’ve just happened because I used the shortcut earlier today.

      1. mdavis

        yeah i’ve noticed that also. didnt know if it was just my computer or not.

  3. King Jeff

    What gives? No combine coverage, no free agency or draft previews? This was looking nice during the season, but no updates almost a month? This seems to be a problem with most Bears blogs, stinks that it’s happening here after such a promising start.

  4. Ed

    Maybe hire multiple writers?

    1. frank

      I don’t think that would be a bad idea–coordination of posts might be more complicated, but nothing that couldn’t be worked out.

      1. mdavis

        certainly. could be as simple as splitting up a series. writer A handles free agent preview, writer b a draft prospect preview, etc.

        just would be nice to get this side back up and rolling. i think we all have some good conversation over here, and with more pieces, i think there would be more participation.

        1. frank

          I agree–I think the quality of the discussions has been very good, and would increase given time.

  5. Toby

    I would love to write a Bears blog considering I’m unemployed and have nothing else to do besides job hunting. Free agency and the draft cannot get here soon enough.

  6. mdavis

    Bears just cut Podlesh. Frees up $1.8 mil in cap space (i believe). Funny I never thought of him being a cut, but he was brutal last year. Expect a competition next year with Tress Way, Butler, and probably one other guy. Way I believe has been faily impressive in the past couple of camps if i remember correct.

    1. Toby

      Brad Biggs of the Tribune says Podlesh will count 800K against the cap this season, but Bears can designate him as a post 6/1 and spread the cap hit to 400K over the next 2 seasons. I would think the Bears would do the latter to create more cap space for this season. I would be surprised if Bears bring in another punter considering the wholes on defense and Bears usually only bring two punters to camp anyways.

      1. frank

        That makes sense–why take an $800K cap hit when you can reduce it to $400K, especially in a year when you’re looking to fill a whole bunch of holes? Every little bit will help this year.

        1. mdavis

          ah yes, my fault. he WOULD of count 1.8 against the cap, but now frees up $800k or $400k x2.

          1. mdavis

            and they still have several moves available to them to creat some more cap space.

            -cut/restructer Peppers
            -cut Bush
            -extend Marshall, lowering his cap # this year.
            -convert part of Cutler’s base into a signing bonus

            so still have a little more flex than maybe all the national media types keep saying.

            1. Toby

              Bears should extend Marshall even if it’s just to lower the 2014 cap number. I think fans forget about the automatic conversion clause in Cutler’s new deal much like what Peppers has done the last couple years.

              1. frank

                Right–Marshall’s is the next big payday coming up, Isn’t it? They should get ahead on that–and then I think Jeffery’s contract is up the next year. Heard Mike Florio say this morning that these big contracts taking up so much of the salary cap space will eventually lead to teams with two or three big contract playmakers, and fill-ins everywhere else–veteran’s minimum players, rookies, and street free agents.

                1. mdavis

                  yeah, and i dont think BMarsh will break the bank. He’s happy here. Has Cutler. Just wants to win. A fair deal yes, but nothing crazy. And I believe Jeffrey has 2 more years, and then he’s going to need to be paid also. The next few drafts are going to be crucial. That’s how these teams are winning, they are hitting on draft picks (cheap contracts).

                  1. frank

                    True–but a fair contract for a legit number one receiver who has eclipsed 1,000 for 7 straight years will still be a big contract. What will help is if the NFLs revenues keep growing at this pace–the salary cap is now about $9 or 10 M more than originally projected.

                  2. Toby

                    There are two, maybe three, players that the Bears should have in mind when thinking about their cap situation in a few years: Jeffery, Long, and maybe Mills. In today’s game where cap management is key, not only hitting on a team’s draft class is important, but also hitting on quite a few UFAs. San Fran and Seattle does a good job finding UFAs that not only make the team, but contribute.

                    1. frank

                      Agreed–I do think the jury’s still out on Mills though. He was better than Webb would’ve been, but still graded out to be pretty average or even below average–not bad for a rookie picked up in the 5th round, but his progress from here will be key.

                    2. Toby

                      I agree that Mills is a wait and see, but the Bears need to keep him in mind when talking about the future of their OL. Kromer is known for turning middle to late round OL into solid to Pro Bowl caliber players.

        2. Toby

          Keep in mind that Bears still can create more cap space with the eventual release (barring a restructure) of Peppers, Bush, Weems, E. Bennett.

          1. mdavis

            oops, didnt see your post. great minds and all that.

  7. Toby

    Sorry, I mean “holes” and not “wholes”

  8. frank

    Agreed.

  9. Toby

    I like that the Bears are bringing back Jeremiah Ratliff back on a two-year deal. He showed that he was, for the most part, healthy for the first time since his Pro Bowl days and showed the motivation that he was not washed up like so many thought. Will this be the end of Henry Melton? I don’t think so. The signing, on one hand is unrelated, but the Bears need to add depth at DT which only has Cohen and Paea. Hopefully, the Bears bring back Wootton.

  10. frank

    Agreed–though I don’t think they’ll resign Cohen unless they have to. And if they do, that’s a sign of trouble. I think they have to bring back Wootton. If they do cut Peppers and lose Wootton, the DE position becomes another huge gap in a defense already full of huge gaps.

    1. Toby

      Wooten is a key guy for the versatility he displayed by playing both DE and DT. I understand he has had trouble staying healthy, but it’s clear that he brings quite a bit to the DL.

      1. frank

        Yes–ideally, he would concentrate on being a DE, but he can move inside if needed, or if they just want to change looks or matchups.

        1. Toby

          Wooten can play the role that Izzy had played for so many years for the Bears. I still believe that the Bears will go after 1 or 2 DEs and 2-3 DTs in free agency and the draft.

          1. frank

            He could, though I think Izzy was probably stronger inside than Wootton is, and Wootton is a bit quicker on the outside than Izzy. But that flexibility’s good to have.

            1. Toby

              I was talking more of how the Bears used Izzy’s versatility to their advantage. One of the aspects of the Bear’s defense that gets lost is how important having a really good rotation of DTs. The two most recent defenses that have stood out is when the Bears had the combo of Ted Washington/Keith Traylor with Bryan Robinson and Alphonzo Boone back in the early 2000s and then with Tommie Harris/Tank Johnson with Ian Scott/Boone/Izzy back in 2006. The DTs got the push up the middle which allowed the ends to rush the QB. If the Bears could get back to that aspect with their DTs then the D should be much better in 14.

              1. frank

                Makes sense. Don’t forget, the 2012 defense was ranked 3rd in the NFL overall defensive rankings. But you’re right–a strong rotation, keeping everyone fresh, is key when the main objective is to push upfield, as in a cover-2. The scheme was different in the Washington/Traylor days though–but the strength of the front four rotation was a constant in all those defenses.

                1. Toby

                  The scheme was different, but the overall role of the DTs was similar. Of course, Washington and Traylor was better known for their run stopping.

                  1. frank

                    My understanding is that although it was a one gap defense at the time, the Washington/Traylor role was to plug the middle and keep the blockers off of the linebackers so that the linebackers could flow to the ball and make plays, whereas in the cover-2, the tackles are to penetrate into the backfield and disrupt the play and collapse the pocket from the middle so that the ends can clean things up from the edges. In either case, though, the need was there for a strong rotation and strong tackle play.

                    1. Toby

                      That was all I was trying to say. I just didn’t convey my thoughts clearly enough. I’m beginning to hope that they do upgrade the DT position through the draft and free agency. I realize that S and CB are just as important, but our conversation has me leaning toward DT as the position to upgrade the most.

  11. frank

    I’ve pretty much always been in that camp–although the relative lack of depth at safety in the draft especially as compared to the defensive line, sometimes has me questioning that.

    1. Toby

      I could see Bears taking a S or CB at 14, unless they trade down, which wouldn’t be a bad idea considering all the holes on defense. The draft is deep at DT after all. If the Bears do trade down, could they receive a package comparable, if not more, to the one NE got when they traded their 1st last year to Minnesota for the right to take Patterson? I think with the depth at WR in this year’s draft that might be a possibility. Would Bear’s fans be on board with the Bears trading back and picking up a 2nd, 4th, 5th and a 1st or 2nd in the 2015 draft for the 14th?

      1. frank

        Do you think they’d get that much for the 14th pick? Or are you assuming that they’d give up other picks as well? Earlier, we were discussing the possibility of a trade with Cleveland because they have an number of picks after #4–I believe they have 26 and 35 in the next two rounds. Would they give up 26 and 35 for 14?

        1. Toby

          The Vikings traded the 52, 83, 102, and 229 picks to NE in order to move back into the 1st round. Of course, it depends on a team willing to move up and what players are still on the board. I could see a Chi/Cleveland trade for 26, 35 and a couple picks in 2015. You know that Cleveland is looking to make a splash in the FA and the draft more than the Bears and might be willing to overspend in the draft. Another trade partner to keep in mind is Arizona. They own the 20th pick and need to upgrade the OL. Would Chi trade the 14th and one of the extra 6ths they have for the 20th pick plus their picks in the 3rd and 4th round plus a 2nd in 2015?

          1. mdavis

            take a look at this link below. Every pick is assigned a point value, and typically to move up you have to exceed the point value of the pick you are acquring. not always the case, but typically. but its a good start to see kind of who may match up, and what type of value might be there in trading.

            http://walterfootball.com/draftchart.php

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