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:
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.
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 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.