IRVING, Texas – There are forums that are appropriate for a discussion about the social and cultural significance of Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to be employed by an NFL team, being signed to the practice squad of the Dallas Cowboys.
Head coach Jason Garrett did not consider his regularly scheduled news conference on Wednesday, days away from the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers, to be that forum.
Garrett announced the signing of Sam along with those of defensive lineman Jack Crawford and practice-squad offensive tackle John Wetzel. Sam, a rookie seventh-round pick out of Missouri who was released by the St. Louis Rams last week, was the subject of several follow-up questions from a larger-than-normal media horde.
“This is about football,” Garrett said. “We evaluated him as a football player and think he can help us as a football player. We want to see what he can do, but our attention and focus is on football. It’s on getting ready for the 49ers. That’s the culture that we have around here. That’s the culture that we’ll continue to have.”
After the fifth question on Sam, Garrett said, “I think we’ve got to be careful about spending too much time on a practice-roster player,” before discussing the Cowboys’ need for depth at defensive end.
Sam is the third defensive end acquired by the Cowboys over the last week. They traded a conditional seventh-round pick to the Tennessee Titans for Lavar Edwards on Saturday. They signed Crawford, who was cut by the Oakland Raiders, on Tuesday.
Edwards and Crawford are on the 53-man roster and could be active on Sunday. Sam, who had three sacks during the preseason with the Rams, is viewed as a developmental pass-rush prospect who will have a chance to hone his skills on the practice squad and compete to be promoted to the active roster.
“We feel like he has a chance to come in at a position we’ve tried to address really throughout the offseason, throughout training camp and compete for a spot,” Garrett said. “The way we view the practice roster is first and foremost their job is to help facilitate practice. But it’s also a great opportunity for us to develop personnel and evaluate personnel. This is not new and different for us.
“We’re bringing a player in we wanted to see on the practice field and got nothing but good reports about him from our people and the people in St. Louis. We just want to give him a chance to come in and see if he can help our football team.”
Garrett downplayed the impact of the media spotlight on Sam’s signing. He stressed that it is external attention, not something that is a significant issue for the team.
“That’s your decision what question you want to ask,” Garrett said, addressing the media. “We’re focused on football. The 49ers are going to be here. They’ve been to the NFC championship game the last three years, and we’re going to kick it off with them at 3:25 Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
“Anyone who’s involved in this organization from a football standpoint is focused on getting ready for this great challenge that we’re going to have. That’s where our attention is, and what people say outside this organization is really up to them. Our focus is on the Niners.”