If Michael Sam is going to be the first openly gay player to make an NFL regular-season roster, it won't be with the St. Louis Rams.
At least not right away.
Sam was among final four players released by the Rams on Saturday as the team finalized its 53-man roster.
He will now be subject to waivers and could be claimed by another team, meaning he would automatically make that club's roster and find a new home by the end of the weekend. If he is unclaimed, Sam may still wind up on the Rams' 10-man practice squad.
"I want to thank the entire Rams organization and the city of St. Louis for giving me this tremendous opportunity and allowing me to show I can play at this level," Sam said via his Twitter account Saturday afternoon.
"I look forward to continuing to build on the progress I made here toward a long and successful career. The most worthwhile things in life rarely come easy, this is a lesson I've always known. The journey continues."
St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher called Sam to inform him of the team's decision around 3:30 ET. Sam, who was in Columbia, Mo., on Saturday to watch his former Missouri Tigers teammates open their season, will meet with Fisher in St. Louis on Sunday.
"I was pulling for him, and it just didn't work out," Fisher said.
Sam was one of hundreds of players released Saturday. But because of the cultural significance of his status as the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL, his release certainly generated the most intrigue.
But what made his preseason memorable was that for him and his teammates, it was about his status as a football player, not as a trailblazer.
"There was no distraction. If someone perceived or thought there might be a distraction, they weren't in the building," Fisher said.
"This was a football decision. Mike fit in very well. Fun to be around, a good teammate. There was no issue there."
In some ways, St. Louis was the perfect spot for Sam to begin his NFL career. He was drafted by one of the NFL's most respected head coaches in Jeff Fisher and joined a team with strong veteran leaders like fellow defensive end Chris Long. Sam also initially remained close to Columbia, Mo., where he had been open about his sexuality to his Missouri teammates and on campus for a year without issue.
But though Sam flashed the pass rush ability in the preseason that helped make him the SEC's co-defensive player of the year in 2013 — he had three sacks in four games — the Rams determined he wasn't one of the five best players at a position where the team was already loaded with talent.
The top four defensive ends were clear: starters Long and Robert Quinn and top reserves William Hayes and Eugene Sims. The emergence of undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks, who showed the ability to capably play all four defensive line positions, meant there was no room left for Sam.
"Mike played well, and he has the ability to play some place," Fisher said. "It has to be right place, has to be a fit."
To Wade Davis, a former NFL player and now the executive director of the You Can Play Project, the best spot for Sam would be back with the Rams as part of their 10-man practice squad.
Davis, who came out as gay after his playing career was over, told USA TODAY Sports that remaining in St. Louis would help Sam's long-term development because of the coaching he would receive there.
"He's proven he needs more snaps," said Davis, who spent time with Fisher and St. Louis Rams general manager Les Snead earlier this week.
"By drafting him, they showed a level of investment in him already."