At first glance, the trade the Dallas Cowboys made for Rolando McClain looks like a good one. On July 1, the Cowboys swapped late picks in 2015 with the Baltimore Ravens to acquire McClain, who was originally drafted No. 8 overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2010.
Who wouldn’t want to add a former top 10 pick? Plus, he’s a linebacker, where the Cowboys need depth because of the injury to Sean Lee. McClain also has that Alabama Crimson Tide pedigree. Tide coach Nick Saban once called McClain one of the smartest football players he has ever coached.
So then why did the Cowboys get McClain for a song? Well, up until Monday, he was retired. Yes, that’s right: retired. At age 24. From the NFL. Most kids dream about playing pro sports and cling to that dream for dear life until an injury, age or an epiphany with the force of one of those anvils that falls on Wile E. Coyote intervenes. McClain has retired twice in a year.
You can’t blame Jerry Jones for pulling the trigger. He gave up practically nothing to take a flyer on a guy who should have been a beast coming out of college.
Why did McClain walk away the first time only one month after signing with the Ravens in April 2013? He was coming off an arrest for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, his third arrest in 16 months. He told the media he retired to get his life straight, which is a valid reason for such a decision.
Two months ago, McClain staged a comeback with the Ravens, but it didn’t go well. His workout was disappointing, and afterward he retired. Again. This time he said to ESPN, “I'm done. If football made me complete, I would play. But whenever I think of it, my heart pulls me away from [me for] whatever reason.”
Now, two months later, we’re led to believe that McClain has suddenly summoned his passion for football again? That’s what his agent, Pat Dye, told the media on Tuesday. “He sounds as excited about football as I’ve ever heard him,” Dye told ESPN.com.
You can’t blame owner and general manager Jerry Jones for pulling the trigger. He gave up practically nothing to take a flyer on a guy who should have been a beast coming out of college.
McClain played his first three NFL seasons (2010-12) with the Raiders, where he finished with 246 tackles and 6.5 sacks; he led the Raiders in tackles in 2011. But he wore out his welcome with his off-the-field behavior, and the Raiders released him before his contract was up.
Perhaps the time away has changed McClain’s attitude about life. But has it changed his attitude about football? Is McClain truly “excited” to play again? If just two months ago McClain questioned his own commitment to football, to the point where he decided to hang it up, can anyone in the Cowboys organization really be certain where McClain’s head is at?
This is an organization that just a few months ago seemed 100 percent confident that backup quarterback Kyle Orton would show up for mandatory mini-camp last month, and we all know how that worked out.
Plus, what kind of player are they getting? Coming out of Alabama, McClain was the borderline size type for the cover 2 defense at 249 pounds. Some research revealed that McClain had ballooned to as much as 259 pounds, which is way too heavy to be effective in defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s scheme.
The Cowboys are listing McClain at 250 pounds. He’s considered a tough, physical player with good run-stopping skills, but he isn’t considered particularly quick. Coming out of college, he ran a 4.68 in the 40-yard dash. Of course Lee only ran a 4.72, so sometimes the 40-time means absolutely nothing.
This is not a Lee-for-McClain swap. There should be no expectation that McClain can come in and give the Cowboys anything close to what Lee gave them. The best-case scenario is that McClain makes the team and gives the Cowboys another option in a linebacking corps that is exceptionally young, now that Lee is on injured reserve.
Yes, there is low risk. Yes, there is high reward. And, yes, there is plenty of reason to be skeptical that anything will come of this. But don’t blame Jones if it doesn’t work. Blame McClain. It’s his last chance. Deep down he must know that.