The Dallas Cowboys have a choice to make after learning of Rolando McClain's 10-game suspension. They can either go with what they have at the inside linebacker position, or they can go shopping in a decidedly picked-over free agent market. For more on the importance of the Mike linebacker position and the intricacies around it, I strongly suggest you give the BTB Podcast on this subject a listen.
Recently, the release of Stephen Tulloch has been a subject of discussion among Cowboys fans given his proven track record as a solid middle linebacker. The day McClain's suspension was announced, I wrote a piece where I suggested Tulloch could be of interest once the Lions released him, which they had made clear they were going to do all along. This was the paragraph on Tulloch:
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.
As this passage made clear, there are certain things Tulloch still does well (stop the run) and certain things he doesn't (play in coverage). In today's NFL that's kind of like having half a linebacker. Part of the thinking is you pair a player like Tulloch with a player more fleet of foot who can cover in a platoon system. This isn't ideal, but the Cowboys lack of an ideal experience-plus-size combination for the middle linebacker position is frankly a little frightening for a team with large expectations for the season.
Recently, though, Bryan Broaddus threw cold water on the potential acquisition of Tulloch, mainly because of age and injury concerns, along with the coverage issues. Here's Broaddus:
Bryan: They are working on other names, but Stephen Tulloch is not one of them. Age, injury and the fact that he has become a two-down player doesn't interest them.
Now that's a very interesting first line - They are working on other names...
If you follow Broaddus' logic, they are looking at younger guys. The market is pretty thin for young linebackers with talent, especially guys who have shown talent on the field. But there is one name that keeps popping up for me, one I included in that other article.
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?
Would the Cowboys be interested in another reclamation project? At least this time it wouldn't be a reclamation for drugs, or crimes, or anything like that. Instead, it would be around a player who seemingly was headed to stardom, only to flame out. In fact, some people who cover the Chargers think he basically quit on the team. There was also talk that he became overweight and out-of-shape in 2014, and was never able to reclaim his former playing ability. By the middle of last season, the Chargers had seen enough and took away his starting position for the rest of the year, then released him even though it cost them some serious dead money.
Would you take a chance on another reclamation project at linebacker, or would you rather see the Cowboys just stick with their current roster?