The news that Rolando McClain has now been hit with a ten game suspension for once again failing a test under the NFL’s substance abuse program may have been painful for fans of the Dallas Cowboys, but it is about as surprising as seeing revealing pictures of a Kardashian on social media. McClain came to the Cowboys with a whole drill team’s worth of red flags. Since he joined the team, he has just raised more. And he is not the only failed attempt to get talent on the cheap due to off-field concerns of late. Greg Hardy did not work out. Randy Gregory is now sitting where McClain was before the latest failed test.
It is time to put an end to this. All the talent in the world is worthless to the team when the player is sitting out a suspension.
In recent years, the front office of the Cowboys has done a much better job of getting on the same page with the coaching staff and the scouts, but the repeated signings of high-risk players has been a glaring exception. Although Jason Garrett has been a good soldier and publicly supported the moves, it is hard to believe he did not raise objections to some or all of these acquisitions. They fly in the face of his often-stated belief in getting the right kind of guys. While he has offered some clarification that RKG refers primarily to on-field performance, locker room behavior, and work ethic, players like Hardy and McClain have still failed in parts of that. And Garrett places a high value on character as well. Logic dictates that he would have to voice some concerns about players who have such histories, especially when there is evidence that they have not learned or made a serious effort to change their behavior. In the wake of the latest McClain suspension, more has come out to support this idea.
And that is the real problem. In this area, Jerry Jones as GM is still making bad decisions in an attempt to get an advantage over the rest of the league. While he has stepped back in many areas and let Stephen Jones, Will McClay, and Garrett have much more of the decision-making, he still thinks he can find damaged goods and turn them into Antiques Roadshow style jackpots. He still has the final call on all things Cowboys, and he keeps making bad ones when he thinks he can salvage someone with great talent and huge issues.
The reason he keeps making this mistake can be summed up in three syllables: Charles Haley. The Hall of Fame pass rusher came with a ton of problems, but he became instrumental in the Super Bowl victories of the early nineties. Despite that being a different era when teams could cover up things so much better than they can now, Jerry Jones keeps trying to recreate that success. It has created a huge blind spot for him in evaluating the risk/reward equation. In the past few years, he has gotten that calculation wrong.
It is past time to correct this issue. The place to start, as Joey Ickes pointed out in his article on the announcement of the suspension, is to cut ties with McClain. He is basically worthless to the team now. With a ten-game suspension, he would not be able to work with the team, and the events surrounding him during the offseason shows that he is almost certainly not going to be in very good shape at the end of the suspension. As was mentioned on Twitter, the suspension is really more like eleven games, since McClain would probably need more than a week to be ready to go. Although the team would gain $750,000 in dead money, they would also pick up $2.625 million in cap space (per Over the Cap).
But money is secondary. McClain sticks out like a sore thumb with his lack of interest in working during the offseason and reported lackadaisical approach to practices in general. He is the exact opposite of almost everyone else on the roster, and like Hardy, the cost of having that kind of cancer in the locker room is far more important than dollars. It doesn’t matter how much talent he brings to the table. The starting middle linebacker needs to be a team leader as much as a force on the field, and McClain is simply not the kind of example you want the rest of the players seeing daily. As Joey also mentioned, dropping McClain will serve as a specific warning to Gregory as to what could become of him, as well as a general example to the rest of the roster.
This feels like an opportunity to send a subliminal message to #94.... You let 55 ride this out, that's the WRONG message— Joey Ickes (@JoeyIckes) June 30, 2016
It is time to cut McClain. It was a bad idea to sign him in the first place, given what has been learned since. Dallas, and especially Jerry Jones, needs to get over this whole idea of rescuing players from themselves. Let other teams take the risks if they choose, but the Cowboys should no longer take these kinds of risks either in free agency or the draft. Gregory still has a chance to redeem himself, but all it takes is one more mistake.
There is also the question of whether the Cowboys might have gone a different direction with their second-round pick had they known that McClain was going to be lost for the majority of the season, at least. There are still good arguments to be made for taking Jaylon Smith, but the likelihood of having to wait until 2017 to see his contributions may not have been viewed the same during the draft if the team had known at the time what was coming.
(One thing that you may note is that the DeMarcus Lawrence suspension has not been mentioned in this discussion. According to reports, that involved a medical treatment that was not approved by the league, not recreational drug use. It does not seem to be at all in the same category as the McClain and Gregory situations.)
Jerry Jones is an old dog, but he has shown he is not unable to learn some new things. It is time for him to absorb another, very important lesson. No more big risks on red-flag players. Listen more closely to your head coach (who may emerge from all this with an even stronger voice in personnel issues). You need your players on the field, not sitting at home because they cannot follow the rules.