17 Players The NFL Will Let Play This Year (And One They Won't)

How embarrassing.

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The NFL regular season is almost here. But there's one player you won't see on the sideline this year:

Jeff Curry/Usa Today Sports

That's Michael Sam, formerly of the St. Louis Rams. But despite a strong preseason, Sam didn't make the Rams roster, wasn't signed by another team, and didn't even make a practice squad.

Let's be very clear about this: If Michael Sam's sexual orientation was still private knowledge, he would be on an NFL roster today.

He's the first SEC defensive player of the year to fail to make an NFL opening day roster in his first pro season — and he may go down in NFL history as the only winner of that award to ever fail to make a roster.

There are 1,696 NFL roster spots, and another 320 jobs on NFL practice squads, and Michael Sam apparently wasn't good enough for any of them.

When fans looked at Michael Sam, they saw a guy who racked up nearly a dozen sacks as a senior in the toughest league in college football, won All-American honors, and then produced another three sacks in three preseason games for the St. Louis Rams. The NFL saw a distraction, which is a polite dance around the truth: People like Michael Sam still aren't welcome in the NFL.

The NFL has just made it clear — on no uncertain terms — that it can afford to continue to be homophobic. Millions of Americans are still going to tune in on Thursday night to see the NFL season kickoff. Make no mistake: That's all that matters to the NFL: those eyeballs, and the dollars that come with them. That's what the NFL's sponsors want, and that's what the NFL wants. Nothing changes unless viewers like you decide to stop watching NFL games, stop playing fantasy football, and stop buying NFL merchandise.

The NFL doesn't care about what you care about. Not gun violence, not domestic abuse, not equal rights, not player safety. All of this is appalling, but the NFL has shown that it's not going to change anytime soon, especially not when it's making this much money without changing a thing. NFL teams split $6 billion in revenue last year — a league record. Commissioner Roger Goodell made more than $44 million in 2012. (And the NFL is a nonprofit, which means it saves millions of dollars each year in taxes.)

But football season goes on. So while Sam waits for a team to offer him a roster spot — and that's a call that may never come — these are some of the stars you'll be cheering on during the 2014 season:

1. Ray Rice

Evan Habeeb/Usa Today Sports

Rice allegedly knocked his then-fiancée unconscious during an offseason altercation at an Atlantic City, New Jersey, casino. He'll be eligible to play in Week 3 against Cleveland when he returns from his two-game suspension.

2. Chris Culliver

D. Ross Cameron/Contra Costa Times / MCT

The 49ers cornerback is still dealing with an ugly offseason incident in which he allegedly hit a 15-year-old on a bicycle, threatened the teen with brass knuckles, and tried to flee the scene. Culliver's also well-known for going on a homophobic rant during an interview before Super Bowl XLVII. He's projected to be an opening day starter for the 49ers.

4. Sean Smith

John Sleezer/Kansas City Star / MCT

The Chiefs' Smith was arrested for DUI after driving into a light pole in downtown Kansas City. The NFL has yet to hand down a suspension or fine. He's projected to start on Sunday versus Tennessee.

5. Ben Roethlisberger

Charles Leclaire/Usa Today Sports

The Steelers quarterback has been accused of sexual assault twice: once by a woman in Georgia, another by a woman in Nevada. The case in Georgia was never prosecuted, and the case in Nevada was settled out of court. Roethlisberger remains one of the most marketable stars in the NFL. (The NFL's online store sells 120 pieces of official Roethlisberger merchandise.)

6. Aldon Smith

AP Photo/Dave Martin

Aldon Smith's been a regular on SportsCenter lately, and not just for his play on the field. In 2012, he was arrested for DUI in Miami. In September 2013, he was arrested for DUI after driving his vehicle into a tree in San Jose, California. In October 2013, officials charged him for possession of an assault weapon. In April, he was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport for making a bomb threat while going through security. Fans won't get to watch Smith until Week 10 as he sits out his NFL-mandated suspension.

7. Lorenzo Taliaferro

Chuck Cook/Usa Today Sports

The Ravens running back was arrested near his hometown in Virginia for two misdemeanors: destruction of property and public intoxication. With Ray Rice out due to his suspension, Taliaferro is expected to be a key contributor early in the season for Baltimore.

8. Marcell Dareus

Daniel Wallace/Tampa Bay Times / MCT

Police arrested Dareus after he crashed his vehicle into a tree. Police said the Buffalo Bills defensive lineman was drag racing before the crash. He was also arrested in May in Alabama for marijuana possession. He's expected to start on Sunday against Chicago.

9. Greg Hardy

Steve Mitchell/Usa Today Sports

Hardy, a defensive end for the Carolina Panthers, was found guilty of assault against his ex-girlfriend, who testified that Hardy threatened to kill her. The NFL may hand down a six-game suspension for Hardy, which would put him back on the field in time for his team's key mid-season game at Green Bay.

10. Jah Reid

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Police say the Ravens' offensive lineman headbutted and then punched a man outside a Key West, Florida, strip club. He was charged with two misdemeanor counts of battery. He'll be a backup for Baltimore.

15. Adam "Pacman" Jones

Mark Zerof/Usa Today Sports

Jones has been involved in nine incidents with police since entering the NFL. Most recently, he was arrested for disorderly conduct during a traffic stop. He's most famous for his involvement in a shooting at a Las Vegas strip club. He'll be a backup defensive back when the Bengals open the season against the Ravens.

17. Da'Quan Bowers

Daniel Wallace/Tampa Bay Times / MCT

The Tampa Bay defender was arrested after attempting to carry a loaded gun through security at LaGuardia Airport in New York. (The charges were later dropped.) This summer, he was allegedly involved in an altercation with Houston Texans player Ricky Sapp and a former member of Destiny's Child. Bowers will be a backup for the Buccaneers.

So... are you still ready for some football?

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