Why free-agent LB Rolando McClain might appeal to Patriots

The New England Patriots are hosting free-agent linebacker Rolando McClain on a visit at Gillette Stadium on Monday, as reported by Field Yates of ESPN.com Insider and Dallas Cowboys ESPN.com NFL Nation reporter Todd Archer.

Let's look at why McClain might appeal to the Patriots.

It starts with the makeup of the current roster and the idea the team is a bit thin at the off-the-line linebacker spots (No. 4 need area). The top three of Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins is strong, although part of the consideration with McClain might be that Hightower is coming off February shoulder surgery (labrum), which according to the Boston Herald is expected to sideline him 6-7 months from the time of the surgery.

There's a drop-off on the depth chart after Mayo, Hightower and Collins and if the Patriots signed McClain, the five-year veteran would have the most playing time experience on defense (54 games played, 50 starts) among the rest of the group. Thus, he falls into the category of a quality depth option over the course of a season.

McClain has the type of size (6-foot-4, 259 pounds) the Patriots generally like at the position. He's considered a smart player who has value on all four downs (606 defensive snaps played in 2014, 119 coming on third down), although speed is not viewed as one of his best assets.

He had 81 tackles, 1 sack and 2 interceptions last season in Dallas after sitting out a year following the first three years of his career in Oakland (2010-12). With McClain walking away from the game in 2013, then returning, any interested club will have to assess how much it is willing to rely on a player who those close to him describe as being wired a bit differently.

Furthermore, if the Patriots do make a move to sign McClain, they'd be doing so knowing he faces a four-game fine for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy and if he has one more failed test, it would lead to a four-game suspension.

The club has shown a willingness to take a similar risk in the past (e.g. Brandon Browner in 2014) and that paid off. Maybe this one would, too.