IRVING, Texas -- As the Dallas Cowboys continue to await the results of Greg Hardy's appeal of a 10-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, they now know they will be without another defensive starter for the first four games of the season.
The NFL announced linebacker Rolando McClain's suspension for violating the substance abuse policy Thursday, meaning the Cowboys would be without their best pass-rusher (Hardy) and their best linebacker in 2014 (McClain) against the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints.
Given how tight the playoff races can be, having those two miss at least four conference games -- and two division games -- could play a pivotal part in the Cowboys’ postseason chances.
While Harold Henderson continues to wait to make an announcement a month after Hardy’s appeal, the Cowboys knew McClain was one failed test -- or failure to show for a test -- away from being suspended four games when they signed him to a one-year deal in the offseason.
He was already going to forfeit roughly $176,000 in salary for the four-game fine for violating the substance abuse policy before the suspension, but now it will cost him another $375,000 in 46-man game-day roster bonuses. The suspension also cuts into his ability to earn up to $1 million in incentives. The best he would be able to do now is an extra $250,000 if he plays in 65 percent of the snaps.
McClain played 62 percent of the snaps in 12 games last season.
While McClain’s return to the field last year can be termed a success -- the coaches credited him with 108 tackles, one sack, nine tackles for loss, five quarterback pressures, two interceptions, five pass deflections and one forced fumble -- off the field has been a different story.
He did not practice much last summer because of various injuries that cropped up after a year of inactivity. When he did practice, he seemed disinterested at times, but his production on the field mattered more.
This offseason he remained in Alabama to rehab after undergoing right knee surgery. He showed up for the mandatory minicamp, but missing the offseason program cost him a $250,000 workout bonus.
With him now missing a quarter of the season, the Cowboys have to ask themselves if he is worth the trouble. Last year, the answer was yes, especially after losing Sean Lee for the season to a knee injury. This year could be a different story.
The Cowboys gave him a $500,000 signing bonus, which would count against the salary cap if they cut him, but no other money was guaranteed.
The Cowboys signed veteran Jasper Brinkley before they re-upped McClain. Brinkley can play on run downs. They also have Anthony Hitchens to play middle linebacker with their desire to keep Sean Lee on the weak side.
The Cowboys don’t have to make any move right now regarding McClain. They can simply wait.
Talent often trumps all in the NFL, but only when that talent is on the field to play games.
With the contract the Cowboys gave McClain, they did not put much bank in him, and now they can’t bank on him.
At some point the bad has to outweigh the good.