Cowboys + McClain: Prepping For A Divorce

The Rolando McClain Era in Dallas it at its precipice, the Cowboys preparing for newly-signed vet Jasper Brinkley to contend to take over in the middle with the now-healthy Sean Lee also ready. What's gone wrong with one of the Cowboys' top success stories of 2014? Premium info inside:

The Dallas Cowboys lost Sean Lee to an ACL tear on the opening day of OTAs, and that constituted the almost irreplaceable. But along came the gifted Rolando McClain. ... But with McClain came what we at the time noted was something different than a "no-risk'' deal -- because the deal would come with a reliance on someone who might prove unreliable.

And that's what's happening inside Valley Ranch right now, the coaching staff being the driving force in allowing Dallas to divorce itself from one of its best players from the 2014 playoff team.

Sources tell that while the team has exchanged contractual concepts with the middle linebacker, the two sides are very much on different pages. And while the Joneses have in recent months been very vocal about wanting to keep McClain (and move Lee to WILL), as time has passed, the ownership has consulted with coaching and personnel ... and those previously high grades have slipped.

“I was on a bad path,” McClain said during the season. “I didn’t deserve to play football, so to (speak). I wasn’t all the way there in the game. So you ain’t going to be the best if you ain’t focused on the job, so I needed to take time to do what was important, get myself right, and I got that right.''

“Now I’m in a great organization, got some great teammates and just happy to play football again.”

What's changed from those stars-aligned days? It starts with the unpredictability and even instability that McClain exhibited from the very start, as he opened camp by being in Alabama for a court date. Now, in fairness to him, he wasted little time impressing coaches and winning the first-team job at middle linebacker -- at which point the team's reliance met Ro's unreliability.

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 his checkered history. The Cowboys of 2010 ranked him as their No. 7 prospect. ... and here he fell into their laps, Jerry Jones accurately predicting this would be a "steal ... if all the stars aligned.''

Not all the stars aligned.

Remember the Blue-White Scrimmage in Oxnard, when CowboysHQ was there as two of McClain's teammates motioned for him to enter the game and he declined. Remember that later it was revealed that he had a mild hamstring problem. ... that was later modified to being an arm injury? And then on Monday, Rolando left the practice field to report to the medical tent and was, according to our sources, given medical clearance to return to the field along with the option to skip the rest of the day out. ... and McClain chose the latter and retired to his dorm room?

That sort of erratic coming-and-going continued during the season. Sometimes it was personal business, sometimes it was injury, sometimes he just took time off from practice to take a lengthy bathroom break. But in the end -- even with a fine season under his belt marred only a bit by finishing the year unable to contribute due to injury -- did they bring into the locker room someone who wants to be there? And someone who they want to pay to continue being there?

McClain was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 2010 out of Alabama. McClain played for Nick Saban, who had Cowboys coach Jason Garrett on his staff in Miami in the mid-2000's. That connection helped make this happen. But now the Cowboys have first-hand knowledge of what a playmaker he can be -- and how enigmatic he can be, something Oakland learned when he was suspended by the Raiders for the final three games of a season and retired. know that those "retirements'' were at least in part due to his desire to care for his two young children. But we also know that Ro gets himself tangled in oddities on a regular occasion. He was in a legal battle a while back 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.) In January of 2013, McClain was arrested again, this time for providing a fake name when he was pulled over for a tint violation. Later that year he joined the Ravens and was arrested again two weeks later, this time for resisting arrest. He retired again shortly thereafter.

What we've said all along: This acquisition wasn't risk-free because what happens if McClain earns the starting position but then flames out or begs out? Our understanding is that Dallas is unwilling to pay much in order to find itself in a similar scenario this year. No, we don't know was Dallas' offer was (if indeed there ever has been a firm proposal). We just know that Lee and Anthony Hitchens are raring to go and that newly-signed Jasper Brinkley, the former first-teamer in Minnesota, might be penciled in as the Dallas MLB starter (with, obviously, Lee at the MIKE and draft options also in play).

Make no mistake: He was the Cowboys' best defender for most of the season, finishing second on the team in tackles with 108, with a sack, nine tackles for loss, five quarterback pressures, two interceptions, five pass deflections and one forced fumble. And most of his defensive teammates felt inspired by his presence. But he missed a quarter of the season due to injuries and we're told he doesn't have coaches going to bat for him now as much as he would like. If you trust the decisions of Will McClay and Rod Marinelli, you're forced to at least try to understand why Dallas will likely divorce a star-caliber player.


To some degree, this is a salary argument. And to some degree, this is a years argument. But most of all, this is a trust problem.

The Cowboys always, on a week-to-week basis, had to wonder if the McClain body was willing. The Cowboys always, on a week-to-week basis, had to wonder if the McClain psyche was willing. The Cowboys don't trust that they know the answers to those questions for 2015 ... so the Cowboys are not themselves willing.

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