At times this season, especially early on, Terrell McClain looked like the best defensive tackle that the Dallas Cowboys had. He finally delivered after two disappointing years with injury problems. However, now a free agent, McClain may not be able to stay with the Cowboys.
Dallas already has Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins, and Cedric Thornton signed up for 2017. They will certainly bring back David Irving, who can play inside and has earned a much larger role after a breakout season. The Cowboys could also look to re-sign Jack Crawford, whose versatility and work ethic have made him a favorite of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
Even though Terrell McClain started all 15 games that he played in, his playing time fell more into a rotation with Irving and Thornton as the season went on. When Irving started to break out, the extra snaps came more out of McClain’s end than from Maliek Collins’ bucket.
Dallas probably likes Terrell McClain more overall than Cedric Thornton. McClain won the starting job over Thornton to start the year and was credited with 500 total snaps over just 291 for Cedric, according to Pro Football Focus. However, money and playing time could be the deciding factors over sheer merit.
When the Cowboys added Cedric Thornton last year he was signed to a four-year, $17 million contract. That’s the kind of money you pay for an expected starter. They clearly liked Thornton enough then to pay him and would probably be comfortable with giving him a larger role now.
At the time of signing Thornton, Dallas had no way of knowing if Terrell McClain would finally show up after so many health issues. They also didn’t know that Maliek Collins would be drafted, or expect to have a rookie defensive tackle emerge so quickly. It was all a matter of hindsight.
Between Tyrone Crawford ($10.35 million) and Cedric Thornton ($4.25 million), Dallas will have close to $15 million in cap space tied up in just two defensive linemen. This is a steep increase from last year when Crawford and Thornton combined for just about $6.5 million against the cap. With a pass-rushing defensive end already a critical need, the Cowboys can’t afford any luxuries elsewhere on the line.
Given their other needs and rising salaries of existing players, it doesn’t look like Dallas will have a spot to bring back Terrell McClain. It’s a shame given how well he played this year, but roster limits and the salary cap always come with tough decisions.