Cowboys Get McClain For Cheap, At What Cost?

Did the Cowboys find another steal on the cheap, or are they making moves of desperation? Our analysis of the trade that brings controversial linebacker Rolando McClain to Dallas:

The Rolando Reclamation Project.

When the Cowboys lost Sean Lee to an ACL tear on the opening day of OTAs, they told everyone that they weren't interested in bringing in a veteran presence at the time. Well, times have changed. Today, Dallas worked out a trade with the Baltimore Ravens for Rolando McClain. To make room for McClain, the club placed Lee on season-ending injured reserve. Wait, wasn't McClain retired, twice? Why yes, yes he was.

According to his agent Pat Dye, McClain will report to the Cowboys, who traded their 2015 sixth-rounder in exchange for the former first-round draft pick (eighth overall in the 2010 draft) who has a checkered history to say the least. The Cowboys have invested very little (Todd Archer was first with the conditions involved) to kick the tires on a player with great draft pedigree. Heck, the leaked draft board of 2010 shows that he was Dallas' 7th-rated prospect.

From that point of view there is nothing wrong with the move. The move back in the draft is asset peanuts. The question is, what are they bringing into the locker room? Is this another case of Ernie Sims, a player with a high draft resume that didn't have the ability to turn physical talents into on-field production? Is he someone that will take crucial snaps away from young guns like Holloman and Hitchens?

McClain was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 2010 out of the University of Alabama. McClain played for Nick Saban, who had Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett on his staff in Miami in the mid-2000's. More on that connection in a second.

Rolando was first-team All-SEC in 2008 and 2009, and a part of the BCS Championship team of 2010. To say he entered the league with great pedigree is an understatement. As a starting 4-3 middle linebacker, McClain was great against the run. He led the Raiders in "stops" with 50; a metric that tracks how many times you made a tackle that kept the offense from being successful. That's 40% of the necessary yardage on first downs, 60% on second downs and 100% on third or fourth downs.

McClain followed up his rookie campaign with 99 tackles and 5 sacks in 2011, however his play in pass coverage fell off some. Then, in 2012, the wheels fell off for him when new head coach Dennis Allen started limiting his snaps during the season. It was widely reported that McClain was kicked out of a practice with Oakland, and then took to the media of the social variety to proclaim he couldn't wait to join a "real team." He'd end the season suspended by the Raiders for the final three games.

It couldn't have helped that McClain was entangled in a legal battle where he was found guilty of third-degree assault, reckless endangerment and discharging a firearm. McClain pointed a gun at a man and fired it next to his head. That guilty charge was appealed and then dismissed when McClain reached a financial settlement with the victim.

In January of 2013, McClain was arrested again, this time for providing a fake name when he was pulled over for a tint violation. The Raiders cut ties with him later that year and he was immediately snatched up on a one year deal by the Baltimore Ravens. How'd McClain respond? By being arrested again less than two weeks later. This time for resisting arrest after an incident in the park where he auditioned for the forthcoming NWA documentary.

At this point, McClain told Baltimore that he was done with the football portion of his life and he retired. He sat out the 2013 season, and re-enrolled in University of Alabama to pursue his bachelor's degree.

Earlier this year, the Ravens activated him to give him a workout that he reportedly showed up out of shape to. He promptly retired again.

By giving McClain a chance to restart his career in Dallas, the Cowboys have done two things. One, they've confirmed that they have indeed loosened the strings around the "Right Kind of Guy" mantra that they've stuck to under the Garrett regime. Two, they've shown that they are not at all secure with the rotation at middle linebacker in anticipation of training camp kicking off in three weeks.

What happens, however, if McClain earns the starting position but flames out? Will Dallas find itself in another scenario where the backups don't have much experience? McClain will be taking reps away from Devonte Holloman and Anthony Hitchens in Oxnard.

On the other hand, just because McClain has played Mike in the past doesn't necessarily mean that's where he'll line up with Dallas. There's talk that McClain could be brought in as competition at the strongside, thus freeing up players like Holloman and Durant to be full-time middle guys. If that's the case, shrewd move by Will McClay and the gang.

Speaking of McClay, this is the third player this offseason that he's brought in off the trash heap with great prior pedigree. Brandon Weeden, by all accounts the new backup quarterback for Dallas, was the 22nd pick of the 2012 first round. Running back Ryan Williams was a second-round pick in the 2011 draft, when Dallas took starter DeMarco Murray in the third.

Now McClain, a player the team had graded above both Dez Bryant and Sean Lee, joins the fray. One would have to wonder if Nick Saban, seeing McClain hanging around campus for the last year, put a good word in with his buddy Jason Garrett on McClain's behalf.

We don't know whether or not Jason Garrett, in his contract's final year, is on a shoestring leash like Emmitt Smith said last week. Heck, we don't even know if McClain will be in shape enough to even make his way up the depth chart. However, bringing someone into the fold with this sort of history is a risky move, no matter how little they paid for him. We already know that the media will call any player that passed through Valley Ranch as "former Cowboy" if they run afoul of the law. Does the team need to take this gamble that those times are behind him? Maybe they'll ask Josh Brent to room with him in California.

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