The Dallas Cowboys recognize Rolando McClain as a Pro Bowl-level talent. But they also see the entire picture here, which is why COO Stephen Jones is able to say the club was not caught off-guard by the middle linebacker's July 2 four-game suspension due to violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy.
"As you all know, we went through the offseason, we were aware there may be something there," Jones said recently of the 26-year-old Alabama product. "We signed some linebackers in free agency, drafted a linebacker. So, similar, not unlike (with Greg) Hardy, we knew something might happen and we prepared for it."
Dallas signed six-year linebacker Jasper Brinkley and four-year linebacker Andrew Gachkar. They also picked up journeyman Keith Rivers from Buffalo before ultimately agreeing to a one-year deal with McClain on April 1 that includes a base salary near the vet-minimum of $750,000 -- a bargain if McClain is fully invested in playing. During the draft, Dallas used a seventh-round pick on Mark Nzeocha out of Wyoming. The Cowboys were prepared for all eventualities concerning McClain, last year's August addition who filled the void in the middle left by an injured Sean Lee. (Lee is now set to return, and second-year man Anthony Hitchens is very much in the linebacker mix, too, along with Kyle Wilber.)
Now that Lee has fully recovered from a torn ACL in his left knee and moved to weakside linebacker, the staff is excited to see both playmaking linebackers on the field together. Now, instead of Sept. 13 against the Giants, they will have to wait until Oct. 11 against the Patriots, assuming Lee is healthy. And pending Hardy's appeal plans, that's when the Pro Bowl-level pass-rusher is slated to return to the field, too. Hardy and McClain are allowed to practice with the team until that time, and will do so starting this week when the Cowboys open camp in Oxnard, California.
"You're obviously disappointed anytime you don't have a player available for the start of the season," said Jones. "But we certainly prepared for that and we look to overcome that."
Related Story: Zack Martin: A Cowboys Championship Link