The Cowboys lost Sean Lee to an ACL tear on the opening day of OTAs, and that constitutes the almost irreplaceable. But along has come the gifted Rolando McClain. ... And even as he opened camp by being in Alabama for a court date, he has wasted little time impressing coaches and contending for the first-team job at middle linebacker.
The Cowboys, who traded their 2015 sixth-rounder in exchange for the former first-round draft pick (eighth overall in the 2010 draft), went into this process acknowledging that he has a checkered history to say the least. The Cowboys have invested very little 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.
Furthermore, Jerry Jones has said this has a chance to be a steal ... with "all the stars aligned" in the owner's words.
But in the last two days, the stars have lost their alignment a bit.
On Sunday, during the Blue-White Scrimmage, CowboysHQ was there as two of McClain's teammates motioned for him to enter the game. He declined. And later it was revealed that he had a mild hamstring problem.
Interesting, as when fans on social media tried to discover why he was being held out, initial reports said it had to do with an arm injury.
Acceptable? Certainly. ... Though he essentially ruled himself out… And it's a bit odd that his teammates were unaware of the injury.
On Monday, a similar scene played itself out: Rolando left the practice field to report to the medical tent. 105.3 The Fan reported that McClain essentially was given medical clearance to return to the field along with the option to skip the rest of the day out.
McClain chose the latter and retired to his dorm room.
There was never anything "wrong" with this acquisition. Again, the Cowboys knew what they were getting when Jones made here's persuasive call to Rolando while Jerry was on vacation in Turkey. The question is, though, and has always been: What are they bringing into the locker room? And are bringing into the locker room someone who wants to be there?
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.
What we've said all along: This acquisition isn't risk-free because what happens if McClain earns the starting position but then flames out or begs out? Will Dallas find itself in another scenario where the backups don't have much experience? McClain will have taken reps away from Devonte Holloman and Anthony Hitchens in Oxnard. ... Will have one handed the keys the defense… Will have been stood and will have not earned that trust.
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. Saban gave the Cowboys and endorsement. Rod Marinelli has raved about the kid. McClain has A chance to be this team's best defensive player.
In public the Cowboys will say McClain is working to be in shape enough to make his way up the depth chart, that it is early, that his body - which hasn't endured a live football game since winter 2012 - still isn't used to training camp.
But there are indications that right now, the McClain body might be no more willing than the McClain psyche.