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Monday, February 10, 2014
Exploring Michael Sam and Patriots fit

By Mike Reiss

With Missouri defensive end Michael Sam announcing publicly Sunday that he was gay, putting him in position to become the first openly active gay player in NFL history, the thought probably crossed the mind of many team-based reporters:

Could you envision a scenario in which Sam lands on the team you cover?

Here are some of my Patriots-based thoughts:

1. It’s about winning: If Bill Belichick thought Sam could help the Patriots win, and he represented the oft-stated “value pick” when he was available, I don’t think he’d hesitate to draft him or sign him after the draft.

2. Something Kraft would root for: Owner Robert Kraft doesn’t make X’s and O’s football decisions, deferring to Belichick, whose track record speaks for itself. But if all things were equal, I think adding Sam is something Kraft would root for because of the inclusive message it would send by his franchise. I think that would mean a lot to Kraft, who takes pride in the Patriots being a “pillar in the community.”

3. Locker-room culture: As an anonymous scout mentioned in Peter King’s “Monday Morning Quarterback” piece on TheMMQB.com, the Patriots have the type of culture -- with strong leadership at the top with Belichick and in the locker room -- where the hubbub that is sure to follow Sam would be quickly extinguished. Former Patriots receiver Donte’ Stallworth made a similar point on Twitter. There are countless examples of situations that were supposed to be distractions (e.g. Aaron Hernandez's murder charge, Tim Tebow's signing etc.) that turned out to be anything but distractions because it’s about football, first and foremost, in New England. For that to work, the player(s) and team have to be working off the same script.

4. Sam’s football fit in New England: Sam is an undersized defensive end by NFL standards (6-foot-1 5/8, 260 pounds) and those players usually don’t carry as high of a draft grade with the Patriots, who have generally preferred their end-of-the-line players to be in the 6-foot-5 and 255-pound range (similar to 2012 first-round pick Chandler Jones). So purely from a height-weight-role standpoint, I don’t see the perfect football fit with the Patriots based on the team’s drafting history. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen, as one possible comparable is 2003 Patriots seventh-round draft choice Tully Banta-Cain, who was in that same type of “tweener” category of 4-3 defensive end and 3-4 outside linebacker. Banta-Cain developed into an effective pass-rusher for the team, and every club is looking for disruptive pass-rushers.