First, as owner/general manager Jerry Jones frankly said, the Cowboys had a major need at middle linebacker after Sean Lee's season-ending knee injury suffered on the first day of organized team activities in May.
Second, the Cowboys didn’t give up much in the deal with the Baltimore Ravens, who won’t receive any compensation if McClain doesn’t make the Dallas roster. At most, the Cowboys would send their sixth-round pick to Baltimore for the Ravens’ seventh-rounder.
Finally, McClain is a phenomenal talent, a former eighth overall pick who just turned 25 years old.
Head coach Jason Garrett distinctly recalls a visit to the Alabama campus when McClain was a sophomore. Alabama coach Nick Saban gushed to Garrett that McClain “might be one of the best players I ever coached.”
“When a guy like that says that, who’s been around for as long as he has and has so many good players, it kind of gets your attention,” Garrett said. “So I can remember watching him in college and certainly we evaluated him very closely coming out. He was a top-10 pick by the Raiders when he came out of school and someone who has an immense amount of ability and, more than that, production. He was a really, really good college player and I think people have a lot of hopes for him as a pro player.
“Certainly he’s had some issues since he’s been in the NFL -- played a couple of years, retired, unretired -- and the research that we did, the due diligence we did, both with Coach Saban and other people who have been around him, we felt like with his ability with the kind of person he’s demonstrated himself to be in the past, maybe we can help him through some of these issues he has and get this guy back playing at the level we all thought he was capable of playing.”
In case the Cowboys needed any reminder of the red flags regarding McClain’s character, he will miss Friday’s practice to return to Alabama to attend his trial on April 2013 charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. Garrett said the Cowboys expect McClain to return to camp over the weekend.
McClain came out of retirement to join the Cowboys, who signed him to a one-year deal with no guaranteed money. At the time, agent Pat Dye said the big-hitting linebacker “sounds as excited about football as I’ve ever heard him.”
Jones hinted that McClain’s financial situation could serve as strong motivation for fulfilling his football potential. The Cowboys clearly hope that the third time is the charm for McClain’s NFL career.
“I have a known a lot of people, a lot of successful people, that quit and then got it together and turned it around and came back and really made something of what they quit actually, in many cases,” Jones said. “I've seen it happen several times in sports. Certainly I have seen it happen in short periods of time with frustration.
“I have a little empathy. He’s got a very plausible experience as to what has impacted him off the field. We all say that you’ve got to be a pro and work through that stuff. I, too, have first-hand seen people that have worked through things better than others. If you get behind them, they can go on to very productive. So based upon his background, his story, based upon the nature of why he’s here -- his health, which is good—all those things, in my mind, he’s a great opportunity for our team.”