Can the Cowboys squeeze one more season out of Rolando McClain?

Dec 21, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain (55) on the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 21, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain (55) on the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

With injured rookie Jaylon Smith sidelined, can the Dallas Cowboys get one more productive season out of starting middle linebacker Rolando McClain in Dallas?

When the Dallas Cowboys traded for twice-retired linebacker Rolando McClain to replace an injured Sean Lee back in 2014, former Washington Redskins/Houston Texans general manager and NFL Network analyst Charlie Casserly called the move a waste of Dallas’ time.

That’s what most seemed to think about the one-time first round pick out of Alabama. Selected eighth overall by the Oakland Raiders in the 2010 NFL Draft, McClain was released by the Raiders after only three seasons. Signed as a free agent by the Baltimore Ravens, the 23-year old decided to retire before playing a single snap in Baltimore.

McClain ended up spending an entire year away from football in 2013. And an attempted comeback was short-lived as he up and retired again after failing a conditioning test by the Ravens mere months before he was traded to Dallas in 2014.

But something changed when McClain became a Cowboy. In his first season in Dallas, the mercurial linebacker played well enough to become an early candidate for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award. Replacing Lee at starting middle linebacker, McClain recorded 81 tackles, two interceptions and a sack while helping Dallas to a 12-4 season-ending record and their first playoff victory since 2009.

Despite rumors of drama surrounding McClain after his first season in Dallas, the Cowboys opted to re-signed him to a one-year contract worth $3 million last offseason. Rolando rewarded the team by getting suspended for the first four games of the 2015 regular season due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

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Once McClain did get back on the field, he struggled to get back on track. After a Week Five debut against the New England Patriots where the returning linebacker posted eight total tackles and a sack, the 26-year old was limited to just 22 total tackles in his following five outings.

Finally back in game-shape, McClain started to show signs of his old self in Week 12 against the Carolina Panthers (12 tackles). In fact, he recorded double-digit tackle totals in four of his last six games last season.

In 2015, McClain recorded a total of 80 tackles, had three pass defends, 2.0 sacks, one interception and his first defensive touchdown in 11 games.

This offseason, the Cowboys re-signed McClain to another one-year contract. This time, for $5 million. Then they turned around and essentially drafted his replacement in injured Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith in the second round of last month’s NFL Draft. Due to a knee injury, Smith isn’t expect to take the field until 2017.

As for McClain, he was absent during last week’s OTA’s due to a family matter. Although these practices are voluntary, Rolando has a history of missing these much needed workouts. And it appears to have one Cowboys insider somewhat concerned.

"“McClain, of sound mind and body, helps make this defense better. That’s why he needs to be here, working, training, practicing, even if it’s in these voluntary workouts,” wrote longtime columnist Mickey Spagnola on Friday. “Now, day after Memorial Day. If not, then look, only attending the mandatory minicamp (June 14-16) and then showing up July 28 for the start of training camp would be a precursor for something else happening. And that’s what would worry me most if I were you.”"

At 6-4, 255 pounds, the physically imposing McClain possess a unique skill set that made him a first round pick back in 2010. But as a professional, his questioned commitment to the game, lack of conditioning, injuries and off-the-field issues have marred his career. With Jaylon Smith likely sidelined for at least this season it might be a minor miracle if the Cowboys are able to squeeze one more year out of McClain, which appears to be their plan.

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