The top draft pick in last year's third round, Travis Kelce, received slightly more than $700K in guaranteed money via his signing bonus. Mike Catapano, the first player off the board in Round 7, nabbed about $69,000. The gap between the two players may not sound like much in the rich NFL world, but it is enough to explain one of the main reasons Michael Sam could slide come draft day:
It would be easier to cut him.
The fact of the matter is that no one is really sure how this will go. This is unprecedented ground for the NFL.
So, all the positive comments from around the league are nice, but ... well, what if the naysayers are right? What if the team Sam lands with proves too unsettled in the locker room to handle the situation or the media frenzy? Heck, what if Sam himself buckles under the weight of what's ahead? He has been stoic and steady thus far, with absolutely no public issues from inside Missouri's locker room after he came out to this teammates. Jumping into the NFL draft circuit, immediately after making his historic announcement, presents another challenge entirely. And even after navigating that, there's uncertainty, right or wrong, to how (or if) a team will embrace him.
Sam is a prospect whose on-field potential already was being questioned before he made his announcement Sunday. Add in the other factors, and even though most NFL personnel members are making the appropriate comments now, Sam will be viewed come the draft as a risk.
And the greater the risk a player brings to the table, the less security teams want to offer up in return. The Cardinals tried to talk Tyrann Mathieu into a contract with no guaranteed money before settling on a staggered bonus. Armonty Bryant, a 2013 seventh-round pick who had been busted selling pot in college, received nothing up front from the Browns. Sweeping Sam under the same umbrella as players who have had off-field brushes with the law would be taking a simplistic, ill-sighted view. Yet, it might be exactly how the NFL's franchises approach him.
The NFL is an old-school type of place, so we can expect there to be some general uneasiness through segments of it with regard to Sam's presence. It's still likely that any tumble Sam takes in the draft will be more about dollars and cents than politics and personal lives.
A perceived locker-room distraction, no matter the cause, is something NFL teams try to avoid. If a franchise is going to jump headfirst into the Michael Sam business, it may opt to do so with a later-round investment as opposed to promising hundreds of thousands of dollars earlier. Teams hunt for starters in the third round -- Larry Warford, Keenan Allen, Tyrann Mathieu and Mike Glennon were all taken there in 2013; they roll the dice late.
There are plenty of people who want to see this story deliver a happy ending, with Sam latching onto an NFL roster and thriving there for several seasons. But front offices cannot predict the future, so they often approach the present with caution.
In the end, most personnel decisions made in the NFL boil down to finances. Why should this one be any different?