Rolando McClain has been suspended. Again.
Whether you were all aboard the "Freight Train" McClain or not, his presence on the field offered the Cowboys a better situation than when he wasn’t. It’s easy to nitpick his performance and say he was taking plays off or milking his injuries or whatever, but the skills he brings to the linebacker position was something the Cowboys defense welcomed with open arms. McClain is a tough guy. He’s football savvy. He may whiff here or there, but more times than not he knows what’s going on during the progression of a play. He’s a good football player.
The Cowboys have mythological linebacker Jaylon Smith on ice until the 2017 season so the team was really crossing their fingers that McClain could just do them a solid and stay out of trouble for one more season. But apparently, that was asking too much. The milk has been spilled. He’s out of action for 10 games. Since he is missing the greater part of the season, it becomes real easy to just toss him to the curb. Our own Tom Ryle has had enough. Good riddance.
And our own Joey Ickes makes a good point about using this unfortunate event to make a statement to anyone else thinking of failing another drug test. The front office could show everyone that they have had enough and end this relationship right now. The Cowboys gave him a chance and he blew it. Now, hit the road.
But is that the right play here? Imagine you are sitting there after ten games and the Cowboys have a record of 7-3 and right in the thick of the playoff hunt. Wouldn’t you welcome McClain back at that point? However the defense had been playing, he would bolster this group for the final stretch and be available for a deep playoff run. Or imagine Sean Lee gets hurt in week eight. McClain’s services certainly could show up at the right time, right?
McClain is suspended and that’s terrible news, but let’s not compound this by making the wrong decision and just cutting him. We are all angry about this, but in true Jason Garrett fashion, let’s take emotion out of it and determine what is best for the team. It’s a sunk cost that can’t be undone, but that doesn’t mean that doing away with him completely is the right decision. Let’s examine all the elements here:
Factor #1 - His suspended games will not count against the salary cap.
The Cowboys only are on the hook for the games he’s eligible to play. So basically, the Cowboys are only renting his services for the last part of the season at a pro-rated cost. Before the suspension, he was going to be a 2016 cap hit of about $3.5 million. After the suspension, his cost is roughly $1.9 million. If the Cowboys cut him, he’d be a $750,000 dead money hit. Financially speaking, it doesn’t cost the team very much more to just keep him for the final six games.
Factor #2 - He won’t tie up a roster spot.
Suspended players don’t count against the 53 so this could buy the Cowboys some more time to figure out what to do with reserve guys like Andrew Gachkar, Damien Wilson, or Mark Nzeocha. Not only that, the Cowboys could opt to go out and bring in a free agent linebacker who could step in and possibly become a pleasant surprise to this defense. When the bad news broke of the Sean Lee injury in 2014, the Cowboys reacted and reaped the rewards of his replacement – McClain. What if the Cowboys signed Justin Durant to fill in and he turns out to be a solid fixture at linebacker?
Factor #3 - He might come back with something to prove.
It’s hard to gauge just how much his head is in to it, but if he wants to be an NFL player going forward, he’ll know that those final six games will be his audition for his 2017 contract paid by some team not named Dallas. Will that light a fire under him? Who knows, but if it does, the Cowboys will get themselves a tenacious LB.
The best thing to do is just put McClain out-of-sight, out-of-mind. If he shows up during game 11 and plays McClain-type football, great! That’s a bonus. If not, then it’s no different than cutting him. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. What’s done is done, but the front office still must make the best decision for the team going forward. If they feel that cutting him now sends a strong message, then that has value and shouldn’t be overlooked. But before they wring their hands of McClain maybe they should try to squeeze out the last little bit of production he has to offer. Come playoff time, it could be nice to have a Rolando in your back pocket.
Should the Cowboys say "adios" to their troubled linebacker or should they let "Freight Train" McClain run its course?