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Dallas Cowboys Free Agency: Large Looming Decisions In Linebacking Corps

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The Dallas Cowboys kept taking hits to their linebacking corps in 2014, yet the unit still flourished. Can the Cowboys remain status quo or will other teams come picking?

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps one of the better kept secrets on the Dallas Cowboys' roster was the entire linebackers unit. Coached by Matt Eberflus, it surely seemed that this team was doomed after losing Sean Lee to an ACL tear. However, the signing of Rolando McClain and the emergence of Justin Durant, Bruce Carter, and rookie Anthony Hitchens kept Dallas afloat.

No other unit in the NFL could have taken as many hits of the injury bug and kept going along as did the Cowboys' middle portion of their defense. Call it good coaching or just plain luck, but the personnel department deserves a lot of credit too. With Sean Lee recovering and back in the fold for 2015, we ask who will be retained to join him?

It seems as only yesterday that Lee went down in OTA's and so the hopes and dreams of the Cowboys' defense. A month later, and very unceremoniously during the World Cup, came the announcement that Dallas had acquired Rolando McClain. The once first-round pick of the Raiders and eighth overall player on the Cowboys' draft board, had since retired twice with many off the field issues stemming. Yet, Dallas acquired his services for a measly sixth-round selection. Most were shocked at the production from the 2014 Comeback Player of the Year candidate. McClain finished the year with 81 tackles, two interceptions, a sack, forced fumble and 10 stuffs at the line. McClain battled numerous injuries throughout the season, but always made his presence felt on gameday. Unfortunately back-to-back concussions ended his season in the first quarter of the divisional round.

Justin Durant came to Dallas as a free agent in 2013, but had an injury-riddled season. In 2014, he was arguably the best linebacker on the field when healthy. He emerged early in training camp and began the season red-hot. He showed his versatility to play all three spots in the Cowboys 4-3, but settled best as the weak-side linebacker. Durant was playing out-of-his mind football when he suffered a torn biceps injury that sent him to injured reserve for the second straight year after six games played.

Bruce Carter was a second-round pick for the Dallas Cowboys in 2011, he's been the ultimate enigma for the Cowboys ever since. He started out in a 3-4 and flashed his skills early due to Sean Lee's absence. Once the switch was made to the 4-3, Carter particularly struggled to find his niche in the defense. He had a rather unimpressive 2013 season. Though inconsistent at times this year, Carter led the team in interceptions with five. Bruce also played all the positions at linebacker. Carter has similar instincts as McClain and Lee, but often finds it hard to stay at a solid level. His youth and production could lead to many other teams being interested in his services. Carter had some fan-friendly moments this year when he sealed a few victories for Dallas on their way to a 12-4 campaign.

Anthony Hitchens was drafted in the fourth round last year. His selection was met with a lot of head shaking but he certainly showed early why he was an asset to this team. If not for Zack Martin, there is no question that Hitchens was the best rookie on the team. His pure instinctual play mixed with his ability to find the ball and tackle helped the Cowboys a great deal. He often played middle linebacker for the oft-injured McClain, but Hitchens also possesses that versatility that Eberflus demands. Hitchens' role in 2015 is bound to increase, and he serves as maybe one of the best insurance policies in the league.

The only two names aforementioned that are guaranteed to be in Dallas this upcoming season are Lee and Hitchens. Now the Dallas Cowboys will have to figure out how to retain some of these free agents. Rolando McClain has said that he only wanted to play in Dallas. There is hope that he would take a team friendly deal. However, big dollars from outside suitors is always a factor.

Justin Durant may be the easier choice to retain, but with his injury concerns and age to consider, will he be the right move for Dallas? Durant could also be considered a possible progress stopper for Hitchens. It at least warrants speculation.

Then there is the question of Bruce Carter. Can the Dallas Cowboys afford to keep him? You always want to keep players that have found success, especially those that you drafted. Plenty of questions and opinions abound, with that as always we would love to hear your thoughts.

In my humble opinion; I would do what I could to try and bring back Rolando McClain and Bruce Carter. I've added a chart of their 2014 statistics for good measure. What say you?

Player

Games Played

Tackles

Sacks

Forced Fumbles

Interceptions

Stuffs

Rolando McClain

13

81

1

1

2

10

Anthony Hitchens

16

75

0

0

1

3

Bruce Carter

13

68

1

0

5

4

Justin Durant

6

49

0

2

1

3