Updates from Wednesday, July 2
McClain's agent talked about the move to ESPN's Todd Archer:
He sounds as excited about football as I've ever heard him,” said McClain's agent, Pat Dye.
“I see, and Rolando sees, the Dallas situation as a great opportunity given Sean's injury, and you're talking about a great franchise and a great organization,” Dye said. “I've described to any of the clients we've had through the years there -- Emmitt Smith, Dexter Coakley, DeMarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, Keith Brooking, DeMarco Murray -- that playing for the Cowboys in football is kind of like playing for the Yankees in baseball. Just an iconic franchise. With kind of what he's done going back to his time with the Raiders, I think that all of this has led him to a point where he feels like the game is too important to him to give up. He's just 24 years old. He's very talented. He's very bright. Tough. Competitive. There's a reason he was a top-10 pick at a position that is almost impossible to be a top-10 pick. Hopefully this situation will go smoothly.”
Later in the day, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com provided an update on compensation for the trade:
Rolando McClain is coming out of his early retirement. Again.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Tuesday that the Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Ravens have agreed in principle on a trade that will send McClain to North Texas:
Baltimore traded LB Rolando McClain to the Dallas Cowboys, per source. So McClain's retirement might be over.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 1, 2014
Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun had more details on the trade:
Cowboys pick up Rolando McClain's tolled nonguaranteed contract of $700,000 for 2014. He also has $400,000 incentives based on playing time— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) July 1, 2014
McClain, 24, has retired from football twice in the last 14 months. After being released by the Oakland Raiders and picked up by Baltimore in April 2013, McClain said he was walking away from the game at age 23. He sat out the entire 2013-14 season.
McClain then informed Baltimore that he planned to come back in April 2014—only to retire for a second time before ever appearing in a Ravens uniform.
"I gotta follow my heart," McClain said in a text to Seth Wickersham of ESPN The Magazine at the time. "It ain't football. If football made me complete I would play. But whenever I think of it my heart pulls me away from whatever reason...This means I'm done."
Apparently, a couple months of reflection was enough to get McClain's heart back in the game. The Cowboys have a sizeable hole at their middle linebacker spot after the talented but oft-injured Sean Lee went down with a torn ACL in May.
Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports reported the Cowboys have placed Lee on injured reserve to facilitate the trade:
Per the NFL transaction wire, Sean Lee was placed on IR by the Cowboys. And the McClain trade is official.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) July 1, 2014
McClain joins a largely unproven corps in the middle. Justin Durant is the only player listed on the depth chart with significant NFL experience. Anthony Hitchens and Dontavis Sapp are both rookies, while Orie Lemon has largely been relegated to practice squad and special teams work in his professional career.
Once considered arguably the safest pick in the 2010 NFL draft, McClain represents a low-risk, high-reward acquisition in Dallas. He made 246 tackles and 6.5 sacks in three seasons (41 games) with the Raiders before being cut for salary-cap purposes. Although he never became the perennial Pro Bowler that Oakland had hoped, McClain ranked eighth in run stop percentage and tackling efficiency among inside linebackers in 2012, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The Cowboys will hope McClain can provide a reasonable facsimile of Lee's production. Like Lee, McClain is much better at stopping the run than working in pass coverage. Dallas' base scheme limited those opportunities for Lee, though he's admittedly improved in that regard and has been much more successful than McClain.
The Cowboys are also getting a potential starter on the cheap. McClain is still under the one-year, $700,000 contract he signed with Baltimore in 2013. Should the year off have eroded his skills to the point he fails to make the team, McClain can be released without much fuss. Swapping a sixth-round pick for a seventh is a minimal risk for someone with the former Alabama star's potential.
More stressing than the financial or draft-pick components will be keeping McClain's head right. He's been through numerous off-the-field issues and exhibited strange behavior that some theorized caused him to step away from football earlier than expected. His commitment to the sport in general is worth heavy skepticism.
Rolando McClain's agent Pat Dye says McClain is fully committed to playing football. Obviously, the Cowboys believe that to be true.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) July 1, 2014
The Cowboys have never been a team to shy away from polarizing personalities in the past—provided they can help win football games. McClain's ability to do so is very much in question at this point. He was a marginal starter when he left Oakland and just took more than a year off from training and going through the rigors of an NFL season.
At this low cost—and considering he fills a big need—the Cowboys can afford to take the risk.
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