The Dallas Cowboys, and their fans, received the bad news that middle linebacker Rolando McClain will be suspended for the first 10 games of the 2016 season. This comes as a big blow to the Cowboys defense as McClain is a big, physical and athletic presence in the middle of the Cowboys defense capable of playing all three downs. Last year wasn't his best, but he's still the best talent the Cowboys have in the middle and one of the better players on their defense. Now the Cowboys have to figure out what they'll do without him for most of the season.
Of course Dallas could choose to fill the role internally. My guess would be they don't want to move Sean Lee back to the middle after his successful conversion to the weak side. So assuming he stays where he is, Anthony Hitchens is likely the next candidate. He has experience playing there for the Cowboys, but his play at linebacker was very inconsistent last year. In this offseason when McClain was absent, journeyman Andrew Gachkar got most of the first-string reps in the middle. That was likely because Hitchens was manning the strong side, a position they thought he would be starting at in 2016. The Cowboys also have the combination of Kyle Wilber, Damien Wilson and Mark Nzeocha. While the Cowboys may very well go with what they currently have, it doesn't exactly inspire confidence.
So if the Cowboys wanted to go outside the organization, who could they get? Unless they can work some kind of trade with assets like Ronald Leary or Darren McFadden, they will need to sift through the leftovers in free agency. And that's not pretty. Here are five candidates.
Stephen Tulloch (Age 31) - He's technically not a free agent and still a Lion, but they have told him they will release him at some point, they are battling over a contractual issue. He has said he wants to play in 2016 and he did start 15 games for Detroit last season with 74 solo tackles and 34 assists, leading the team. He needs to come off the field on passing downs but could help the run game.
Justin Durant (Age 30) - The Cowboys know him and he knows the Cowboys scheme. Based on history and build, he might be best suited for the outside, but the Cowboys could kick the tires on him for cheap. His 2015 season with the Falcons wasn't very good, but previously he had been a serviceable linebacker.
DeMeco Ryans (Age 31) - A bad year on a very bad Eagles' defense has left Ryans unemployed. He made it clear a week ago that he would still like to play, and it was only a couple of years ago when he had 102 tackles for the Eagles. But he will be 32 and has been in decline.
Donald Butler (Age 27) - In 2013 Butler had a fantastic year for the Chargers and received a large extension, then his play declined in 2014 and 2015 when he was eventually released. He's still young and has at least showed he could once play at a high level in the league, but can anyone figure out why he tanked?
Curtis Lofton (Age 30) - Once a stalwart for the Falcons, Lofton fell out of favor in his one season with the Raiders. He confirmed last week he wants to play in 2016, but he his coming off ankle and knee surgeries this offseason. Age and health might have sapped his talents.
Should the Cowboys go out and get one of these guys? Or should they just let the guys on the roster battle it out?