There has been a lot of grumbling when it comes to the Cowboys linebacker position after the team drafted an injured player that won’t see the field this year. That means that the team would need to rely on Rolando McClain for another season. A lot of people had trust issues when it comes to McClain. A couple months ago I wrote a piece about whether the team can count on him in 2016 and had this to say about him.
I’ve conditioned myself to look at McClain as just a bonus. He’s not someone you want to hold your breath on because of his availability risk. The Cowboys know this and that is why they keep offering him one-year deals. If you’re keeping track, he’s now gotten three of them. The team has no desire to make a long-term investment in him so they resort to renting out his services. And while it’s safe to put him out-of-sight, out-of-mind, it’s hard to not relish in the satisfaction he brings when he’s on the field. Let’s be real about this – McClain plays well.
Many fans felt he couldn't be counted on and it didn’t take long for him to confirm that feeling. Last month, McClain was suspended 10 games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Well, the Cowboys front office remained calm, cool, and collected when they heard the news. No panic. They didn’t cut McClain. They didn’t go out and try to bring in some big-name replacement. Instead, they hung on to McClain and signed veteran Justin Durant to a one-year deal.
And with one quick stroke of a pen, the linebacker position is looking good again. That may seem like a little bit of a presumptuous statement, considering Durant is a very humdrum acquisition. But that’s okay, and here’s why:
Durant is good when he’s healthy. People will applaud the efforts of McClain in 2014 when he filled in for the injured Sean Lee, but Durant was right by his side for the first part of the season. He was all over the field and played a huge role in the defenses success. He only played in the first six games of the season, but had 49 tackles. If he would have stayed healthy and produced at that rate, he would have had 130 tackles, which would have been a career high for him. But here lies the problem. He can’t stay healthy. In his short, two-year stint with Dallas, he’s missed half of the games.
That would be unsettling if it wasn’t for the fact that he won’t need to make it through the entire season. His magic number is 10 games. That’s when Rolando gets back. While it might seem like the Cowboys would be inclined to release McClain, that’s not going to happen. The Cowboys will keep him in their back pocket and see what happens. Maybe he’s available in week 11, maybe he’s not, but the team is not going to cut him just to send a message. The only message that would send would be to the Cowboys late season opponents that they won’t have to game plan for McClain. That’s not a positive message if you’re a Cowboys fan. There are much more effective ways to get your message across. It’s called coaching. And look at the high percentage of players on the roster that get the message. This team committed to McClain for 2016 and they’ll get whatever they can from him. While it’s easy to get lost in all the madness that follows McClain, the team values his contributions quite a bit. The Cowboys are keeping him around for financial reasons, but part of that is that they can still get some return on their investment, even if it is shortened.
The Cowboys just need placeholders. And in this case, they need a placeholder for their placeholder.