I hear the outcries now, and trust me they are absolutely warranted. It's always something with Rolando McClain and his seeming inability to keep smart. There was a lot of talk this offseason about a possible "divorce" with McClain due to the coaching staff being a little tired of his antics. My colleague Tom Ryle would disagree, but here in July is not the time to just discard Rolando because of a four-game suspension.
I understand that he's a headache, but the Cowboys knew what they were getting when they took a chance on him. McClain is definitely a knucklehead at times, but he's not alone in the NFL. Just yesterday, Sheldon Richardson and the great Antonio Gates were popped as well. We have firmly entered the idiot portion of the offseason, and though it's unfortunate, it happens.
Rolando McClain has many things that he is working through in his life. He definitely doesn't like to practice and finds elaborate ways to have his own VIP seating in the training room. He's not the first guy to do so though, many NFL players before him have done similar things, too. In the words of Allen Iverson, "We talkin' 'bout practice!" As much as fans are tuned into the every move of their favorite team's players these days, we have to remember that they are only human. McClain is not going to all-of-a-sudden become the practice champion and be awarded participation medals. Though it obviously is an annoyance to the coaches, players with an X-factor of talent are given a longer leash; period.
Rolando McClain is the perfect example of this. There is no denying what he can do once the pads come on, and for that his often silly excursions become easier to deal with for the front office. Rod Marinelli put it rather cleanly last season when he said " if he hits you, you'll certainly feel it the next day." It has been a long time since the Cowboys could say they had a guy like him that can set the tone early. Nobody has come around in their position and has been such a physical specimen like Rolando. You can name guys like DeMarcus Ware and recognize their elite talent, but McClain is a dog. When he's roaming the middle of that defense, he's like a headhunter out there.
According to PFF, McClain has the statistics to back it up. Playing 683 snaps, McClain had a whopping +17.2 rating for Dallas last year. In 13 games, McClain had 81 tackles, a sack, forced fumble and two interceptions; one of which sealed a victory against the Seahawks at CenturyLink. Rolando McClain finished the year tied for 7th by PFF's inside linebacker tallies. I say again, headache? Yes. Expendable? Not exactly.
Matt Miller comprised a ranking of his sixty best inside linebackers and ranked Rolando as the 11th best in the NFL, here we're his thoughts:
"Rolando McClain returned to the NFL in 2014 after sitting out the 2013 season. The massive middle linebacker (6'4", 255 lbs) didn’t seem to miss a beat. While he doesn’t play with elite speed, McClain shows good burst and instincts against the run. The former Alabama linebacker was able to shed blockers and play with more range than he did in years past, while not losing his ability to play in traffic."
The Cowboys have certainly got good play out of their other linebackers on the roster. Anthony Hitchens was a surprise fourth-round selection that earned his draft status and more in 2014. The Cowboys signed Jasper Brinkley as an insurance policy for McClain. They also drafted two linebackers in Damien Wilson and Mark Nzechoa. Brinkley played very well in Minnesota and subsequently was ranked 18th in Miller's exercise. However, he is not going to replace the it-factor that Rolando McClain possesses.
Despite his known drawbacks, we are talking about a runner-up for the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year award. The Cowboys are now prepared to move Sean Lee to the WILL, something they haven't been able to do until finding Rolando. If the Cowboys are fed up with Rolando McClain and cut him, then that's their decision. I'm sure they are comfortable with the depth they built at linebacker. However, he will certainly be missed because with him this linebacker corps is dynamic, without him they are just sufficient. So he makes a few boneheaded decisions, the Cowboys are still counting on him to help them reach the ultimate goal. At this point, they haven't spent too much in keeping him and his actions only hurt his own wallet. Dallas has protected themselves because they knew what they we're dealing with, it doesn't stop them from loving what he he brings on Sunday. I'll take McClain for twelve games and pair him with Lee than just about every other combination in the NFL.