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3 Free Agents That Could Replace Rolando McClain in Dallas

The Dallas Cowboys Justin Durant Curtis Lofton DeMeco Ryans

Brian Martin

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Cowboys Headlines - 3 Free Agent Options To Replace Rolando McClain For Cowboys 4

The Dallas Cowboys have unfortunately put themselves in a really tough situation on the defensive side of the ball. They have three defensive players on their front seven that will be suspended to start the season, and they will have to find a way to compensate for their absence.

One player in particular may be extremely difficult to replace.

Rolando McClain is a difference maker when he's on the field, but due to recent news we now know that he will miss the first 10 games of the year. McClain could possibly see his time with the Dallas Cowboys coming to an end.

There comes a time when you have to move on from these knucklehead players, despite their talent. The time is now for the Cowboys to send a message to the rest of their team that this kind of conduct is unacceptable.

I personally was hoping that McClain would become a difference maker in 2016, since this would be his first full off-season with the Dallas Cowboys. I even went as far as writing an article about how he could be the key to the defensive success in 2016, but now the Cowboys are left trying to replace him.

They have options on their current roster, but not many players with very much NFL experience. Of course, Sean Lee could move back to MLB, but that's not ideal due to his injury history and the physical nature of the position. Anthony Hitchens might be the favorite at this point, but even he is unproven. That is why I think it might be wise to go the veteran route to help fill the void at the middle linebacker position.

I decided to do a little research to find out if there were any veteran free agent linebackers that could be of interest, and here is what I came up with:

Justin Durant

Cowboys Headlines - 3 Free Agent Options To Replace Rolando McClain For Cowboys

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY

The Dallas Cowboys already have a familiarity with veteran linebacker Justin Durant, so that may make him an intriguing option to replace Rolando McClain. Durant was part of the organization in 2013 and 2014, but spent the 2015 season with the Atlanta Falcons.

As a member of the Falcons last season, Justin Durant accumulated a total of 82 combined tackles, three passes defensed, and one forced fumble. Not eye-popping numbers, but pretty solid nonetheless.

Unfortunately, injuries have plagued him the majority of his NFL career and I'm not sure the Cowboys would want to bring in a player that might not last the entire season. Plus, due to his size (6'1", 230) and his age (30), he may be a better fit as a weak side linebacker instead of an MLB.

If the Cowboys are looking for a veteran to help fill in, they could kick the tires on Justin Durant and see if he could possibly help out.

Curtis Lofton

Cowboys Headlines - 3 Free Agent Options To Replace Rolando McClain For Cowboys 2Curtis Lofton is coming off his worst season in the NFL after spending last year with the Oakland Raiders. He finished the year with just 64 total tackles and one quarterback sack.

Lofton is probably a better fit to play MLB for the Dallas Cowboys than Justin Durant and has been a tackling machine throughout his NFL career.

He is still recovering from off-season knee and ankle surgeries, but the surgeries aren't considered serious. He should be ready to play in 2016.

Curtis Lofton just turned 30 years old and is entering the stage of his career where injuries might become a reoccurring theme. I think he has a lot of good football ahead of him and would be a really interesting option if Dallas decides to bring in a veteran linebacker.

DeMeco Ryans

Cowboys Headlines - 3 Free Agent Options To Replace Rolando McClain For Cowboys 3DeMeco Ryans is not only the most tenured linebacker on this list, but also has the most experience playing in the NFC East division.

Ryans has spent the last four seasons as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, but was a recent cap casually, thus making him available as a free agent. Last season, for the Eagles, he had 49 total tackles, five passes defensed, one interception, and one forced fumble.

His experience within the division might be beneficial to the Cowboys defense, but at this point in his career his skill set could be starting to diminish. Players start slowing down with age and it just might be catching up to DeMeco Ryans.

Living in the Houston area, I witnessed firsthand how effective he can be on the field during his time with the Houston Texans, but I can honestly say I kind of lost track of him when he joined the Eagles.

I think it would be worthwhile for the Dallas Cowboys to see what he's got left in the tank and put him through a workout.

Are any of these vet LBs realistic options for the Cowboys?

Of course, all of this is speculation that the organization and coaching staff isn't already comfortable with what they have at the linebacker position. They still have training camp to get through, but I think it's still worth mentioning that there are some veteran options available.

Let me know what you think in the comment section below.



Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.

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23 Comments
  • jimmy d

    Thanks for writing this! Once McClain got suspended, my first thought was enough is enough… Cowboys will now sign someone to help the defense. However…. I saw no articles on the topic until yours. I hope we see a workout or signing soon.

    • Brian Martin

      Thanks for reading Jimmy. It's always good to get feedback, whether it's positive or negative. I was surprised myself when I looked around the Internet and didn't see anyone suggesting who could possibly replace Rolando McClain. Maybe everyone was still in shock at yet another Cowboys defender getting suspended. It's definitely shaping up to be an interesting off-season for the Cowboys. Training camp will be huge for them this year.

  • Jeff Brisco

    Interesting article. I really liked the thought process. I like Curtis Lofton. Out of all 3 I believe he would be the best fit. I also think they would get total buy in from him. The price would be cheap too. I believe Marinelli would find a way to get the most out of him.

    • Brian Martin

      Thanks for coming Jeff. I agree with you. Curtis Lofton has been the most productive of the three and I think he has the most left in the tank. Unfortunately, it all depends on how he is recovering from his off-season surgeries. Although they were considered serious, it could be why he is still available.

  • Ray

    Greate article, unfortunately cowboys have young players on this roster and a few choices of old and banged up players on the latter part of their careers. I don't see any good options at this point for my boys. Perhaps Durant would be their best option due to his familiarity with the Cowboys system (2013 and 2014).

    • Brian Martin

      Everything you say is true Ray. Any free-agent at this point that is still available are usually in the later part of their careers, but that doesn't mean they still can be productive. I'm sure the Cowboys are hoping that some of their younger linebackers can step up, but without the majority of them having very much NFL experience it's hard to assess them properly. Durant does have the familiarity with the defensive system, but Rod Marinelli's system is simplistic and should be easy to pick up, especially for a veteran. Personally, I think Curtis Lofton and DeMeco Ryans are both better options to play the middle linebacker position and don't have the injury history like Durant.

  • Derrick

    I wouldn't hesitate to bring back Greg Hardy.

    • Brian Martin

      I don't think that's even being considered by the Cowboys. Hardy burned all his bridges with the organization last year and the fact that no other team in the NFL will touch him should tell you something about his status in the league. There must be more going on with the whole Greg Hardy situation than we as fans know. He has the talent, but it's his character and past troubles that are keeping him from getting a job in the NFL. I don't see any scenario where Hardy will ever be back with the Cowboys.

  • Joshua

    What about a trade option? We have plenty of RB's now, weird to say that considering it wasnt too long ago we all were pulling our hair out over the lack of depth at that position. Wouldnt we (possibly) be able to find better value if a team has need at RB due to injury during camp?

    • Brian Martin

      A trade is always a possibility, but you have to have a willing trade partner and other NFL teams know that the Cowboys may be desperate to trade for a LB and want to much in compensation. Yes, the running back depth could allow the Cowboys to trade one of them, but don't forget about offensive guard Ronald Leary as a tradable commodity as well. I appreciate you taking the time to comment. It's always good to hear everyone's different thoughts and opinions.

  • Joshua

    P.s. I also applaud the article for its uniqueness!

    • Brian Martin

      Thanks. Positive feedback is always welcome.

  • Brandon

    I really liked this article also I think they should cut ties with McClain and sign Curtis Lofton or Demico Ryans to a cheap 1 year deal before training camp and see what they have left. If younger players currently on the roster outplay them during camp and preseason then they can cut ties with them without losing anything but it's better to try and maximize there options.

    • Brian Martin

      Thanks for taking the time and commenting Brandon. I love to hear any kind of feedback and everyone else's opinions. I really like the idea of signing Curtis Lofton, but I just don't know where he's at in his recovery after off-season surgery to his knee and ankle. The surgeries weren't considered serious, but I just don't know if he would be ready once training camp kicks off July 28. I'm sure the Cowboys are examining all their options. They can't afford not to.

  • Julius Bridges Jr

    Bring in Ryans , trade Leary .. and , McFadden , along with a second round pick in next year's draft , for the rights to Joey Bosa ! The Cowboys are on the edge of something special , within the next few seasons ( .. if not , this season ) . Time is too precious for The Dope Head Daycare Program to keep opening it's doors to the adolescents , whom have yet to fully mature towards the responsibility level required to become a TRUE professional athlete .. What good is a player if he's unable to suit up ! TOTAL WASTE OF MONEY …

    • Brian Martin

      I don't see any scenario where the Cowboys can trade for Joey Bosa. The Cowboys knew about Lawrence and Gregory's suspension heading into the draft and still didn't select him. That should tell you something right there. I think they'll ride out the first month with what they have and hope that Lawrence and Gregory's return can boost the pass rush. It will be interesting to see what they do at middle linebacker though. There are some current players on the roster that could step up and hopefully fill that role. How the organization feels about their current group will tell us all we need to know about bringing in a veteran LB.

  • DaveH

    More than likely, they wait to see who is available after training camp rosters get trimmed down. Go with one of there own for now.

    • Brian Martin

      I don't see them going that route because I don't see any linebackers that will be available that is better than what they already have. If the Cowboys don't bring in a veteran LB that will tell us all we need to know about how they feel about their current group of linebackers.

  • Allen Rogers

    You hit the nail right on the head with this article Brian Martin. Since R.McClain cant stop puffing the weed, we should make it so, he has plenty of time to get high!!!! D.Ryans would be a perfect fit at linebacker for us, I hope JJ gives him a workout.

    • Brian Martin

      Thanks for commenting Allen. It's a good boost to the ego to receive positive feedback. I actually like Curtis Lofton just a little bit better than D. Ryans, but only if he is ready for training camp after his off-season surgeries. Although, I really like that Ryans is familiar with the NFC East division already. Donald Butler is another veteran linebacker that is available. He could be an intriguing option as well.

  • theone

    How come no one is talking about AJ Hawk, i know he has lost a step but i think he is talented enough paired with Hitchens to keep the position steady until next year when Hopefully Smith can get on the field… plus paired with Sean lee i think some nice plays could happen… But honestly.. .to me there isnt a reason why Anthony Hitchens should get the job… maybe even the whole job, he played good when McClain was out last year and i think more time is what he needs… I just wish we could find more blitz packages for Kyle Wilber this year.. if you look at his size and speed I dont understand, i know blitz packages arent Rod marinelli's thing but to me we have the talent at LB to get to the QB more… Kyle Wilber should also get a shot a MLB

    • Brian Martin

      AJ Hawk at this point in his career is probably nothing more than a two down linebacker. Not exactly what I think the Cowboys are looking for if they do decide to go the veteran route. I actually like Anthony Hitchens better and I think that's who the Cowboys will probably end up going with. I don't think Kyle Wilber is an MLB. There is a reason why he is taken off the field on third downs. He is a liability in pass coverage.

  • http://yahoo crh

    Pick all three an go with 6 linebacker for the season be creative if you can afford them it will work

Dallas Cowboys

How Cowboys Could Benefit From Randy Gregory’s Suspension

Brian Martin

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Cowboys Headlines - Randy Gregory Withdraws Suspension Appeal, Cannot Return Until Week 15

Randy Gregory is back! His suspension is officially over and he will be able to join the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California when training camp gets underway less than a week from now.

Speculation has already started as to what this could mean for the Dallas Cowboys defense this season, and shockingly expectations are rather high for a player who hasn't stepped foot on the field in over a year. But, that's not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to focus on Gregory's mess of a contract, because it is rather interesting.

Randy Gregory was signed to a four-year contract after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory's rookie deal was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018 season, but his multiple suspensions have now changed that expiration date.

You see, Gregory has only played in a total of 14 games in his career, 12 as a rookie and two in Year 2. His third year in the NFL was completely wiped out due to his year-long suspension. If you were to add that all up, it equates to just one accured season in the NFL. Remember that, because it could have a huge impact on his contract down the road.

Randy Gregory

Dallas Cowboys DE Randy Gregory

What all of this means is that the Cowboys can pretty much stretch out Gregory's contract now that they are three years in on the deal and have only gotten one accured season out of the agreement. That basically means they can push his contract back a year, meaning his 2017 salary ($731,813) gets pushed back to 2018, his 2018 salary ($955,217) gets pushed to 2019. That would essentially make him a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in 2020.

Or does it?

Depending on how the Dallas Cowboys handled paying Randy Gregory during his suspension could actually make him an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (EFA). This is a similar situation in which David Irving found himself in after the 2017 season. The Cowboys placed a second-round tender on him in order to secure his services for another season, albeit at a $2.91 million price tag.

As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys pretty much hold all the cards when it comes to Randy Gregory's contract situation. It's all a little confusing, but that's what makes it such a unique and interesting situation.

Of course, the Cowboys could decide to extend Gregory early if he completely dominates upon his return this season. It's highly doubtful though considering his past suspensions, but still technically a possibility. If it does happen, you can go ahead and ignore everything I've written previously.



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Dallas Cowboys

Earl Thomas: Age is Just a Number Part II

John Williams

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Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de Earl Thomas, la NFL Sigue Equivocándose
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Yesterday, I wrote a piece attempting to assuage the fears that many in Cowboys Nation have about handing a contract extension out to Earl Thomas, who is 29 years old as we enter the 2018 NFL season.

In the comment section, a reader posed a very good question that is the basis for the rest of this article:

Earl Thomas Comparisons at age 29 and Beyond

It's a great question that certainly required some research, but Cowboys fans all across the world should be encouraged by my findings.

Just to refresh, here are the players we looked at as favorable comparisons to Earl Thomas at this point in his career. I searched Pro Football Reference for safeties who had at least three All-Pro First Team selections and at least six Pro Bowl appearances.

Considering an Earl Thomas Extension, Age is just a Number

The average age of the players listed at the time when they reached their third All-Pro was 31 years old. I'm removing Deion Sanders and Roger Wehrli from the equation as most of their work was done at cornerback.

Let's look at a chart that outlines what these guys careers looked like at age 29 and beyond to get a better picture. Remember, Earl Thomas already has three All-Pro selections and six Pro Bowls. Many of these guys didn't reach those kind of accolades until their 30s.

Earl Thomas Comparisons at age 29 and Beyond 1

Click image to view at full size.

The first thing I noticed as I looked into this question is that only two players had three or more All-Pro First Team selections prior to age 29, like Earl Thomas has. Those players were Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott. Every other player on this list didn't hit their third All-Pro selection until age 29 or later.

Only one player reached his sixth Pro Bowl prior to his age 29 season, that player is Ronnie Lott, who many NFL Analysts consider to be the greatest safety of all-time. Most of the players didn't achieve their third All-Pro selection until their age 29 season or later. Earl Thomas reached his third All-Pro selection at age 25.

Here's a hot take for you: Earl Thomas, when it's all said and done could be considered the greatest safety of all-time.  I'll just leave that there to marinate and if a trade does happen, we'll come back to that.

Back to the chart.

Another thing I want to point out is that none of these players were 100% healthy. Such is the life in the NFL, especially as you get older, but they were available for at least 14 games a majority of their seasons aged 29 or later. Health is an unpredictable animal in the NFL, but the safety position allows for much more longevity than many other positions. And as the chart depicts, it's a position that ages well.

So, as you can see in the chart, players who were highly productive prior to their age 29 season were also highly productive for several seasons after. These players went onto average almost seven more years in the league from their age 29 seasons.

Most players continued to average a healthy amount of interceptions. The player that saw the biggest decline from the early part of his career to the post-29 part of his career was Brian Dawkins. The former Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos safety went from three interceptions per season prior to 29 to 1.9 interceptions per season 29 and after.

When it comes to the safety position, the elite seem to be able to get the most of their bodies and their abilities and can prolong their prime. The position relies as much on intelligence and awareness as it does quickness and athleticism. Earl Thomas has the mental capacity to play the game for many more years and there's been zero evidence to suggest that he is experiencing any physical decline.

At the rate of his career that he's on, Earl Thomas is destined for the Hall of Fame. He's one of the faces of the Legion of Boom defense that propelled the Seattle Seahawks into the elite category of teams in the early part of this decade.

If and when an Earl Thomas trade does occur, don't sweat an extension for Thomas.

Thomas' credentials put him in an elite group of players who played the game for a very long time and there's no reason to believe he won't continue to do so.

The Dallas Cowboys aren't that far off from having a Super Bowl contending defense built in the image of the Seattle Seahawks. Going to get the All-Pro, future Hall of Fame safety is the final piece to the to the Dallas Cowboys completing construction on "Doomsday III." 

Everything else is there for the Dallas Cowboys, now all they have to do is: Go. Get. Earl!



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Dallas Cowboys

Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPN

John Williams

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A Fully Focused Ezekiel Elliott can Carry the Cowboys into 2018 Playoffs 2
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN has long been considered "The Worldwide Leader in Sports," and for a long time that title was justified. If you wanted your national sports news, where did you turn to but the cable sports channel to watch that day's episode of SportsCenter. But over the last few years, it's become more and more clear that it's "The Worldwide Leader" in name only.

The ratings are dropping and the network has had to make a lot of business decisions as it relates to much of their on-air talent over the last several years. With their latest under 25 starting 22 -- ahem, troll job -- they seem to have finally come to terms that they are basically First Take.

Noah Brown put it best in his reaction to the ESPN "Insider" voting that led to Saquon Barkley being named to the starting 22 ahead of Ezekiel Elliott. Brown, Elliott's teammate when both were at Ohio State University, came to his defense upon seeing the list.

Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPNAnd here is the ESPN list:

SportsCenter on Twitter

43 of our NFL Insiders voted. Here's their best starting roster under the age of 25.

I'm sure there could be debates about different positions on the squad. Personally, quarterback is one where an argument could be made for Carson Wentz or Dak Prescott over DeShaun Watson, but that's for another time.

But to have a rookie, who has never played a down in the NFL ahead of the NFL's league leader in rushing for 2016, Ezekiel Elliott, is laughable.

Ridiculous.

Shameful even.

The fact that they had 43, again I use the quotations, "Insiders" vote on this and Ezekiel Elliott wasn't listed as one of the two running backs just shows you how far they've come as a network.

Let's remember that Ezekiel Elliott has averaged a touchdown a game -- receiving and rushing -- in his 25-game career. No running back has more rushing yards than Elliott does over the last two years, including 2017 league rushing leader, Kareem Hunt. No running back has more rushing touchdowns than Elliott's 22 rushing TDs.

Ezekiel Elliott's yards per carry is a healthy 4.63. Todd Gurley sits at 3.93. No player with more than 1,800 rushing yards over the last two years has a better yards per attempt than Ezekiel Elliott.

I get that you'd vote Todd Gurley in there, but to not have Ezekiel Elliott, arguably the game's best running back on your Under 25 starting 22 just makes you look like Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith. Not a sports journalism entity worthy of people throwing money at for "Insider" access.

I won't say that I never or will never watch ESPN, because where else am I gonna go for Monday Night Football, Todd Archer, or the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championships? When I'm at my father-in-law's, I'll watch SportsCenter first thing in the morning, because it will be on and you don't change another man's television.

"The Worldwide Leader," however, loses credibility when they promote a list like this that has such a glaring omission.

Perhaps, maybe the goal wasn't to put out an accurate list. Maybe the goal was to get us talking about their list, just like when NFL Network releases their Top 100 players list. Like they say, there's no such thing as bad publicity.

This troll job from ESPN has certainly gotten them some publicity, or should I say, notoriety.



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