By John McMullen, NFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Rod Marinelli might have had the toughest job in football with star linebacker Sean Lee.
Without him, the Dallas Cowboys' first-year defensive coordinator could yearn for the halcyon days of his 0-16 performance as the head coach of the Detroit Lions back in 2008.
To put it bluntly, the Cowboys' defense stinks.
Dallas was ranked dead last on that side of the ball last season, surrendering a laughable 415.3 yards per game, the only NFL stop unit to allow over four football fields on average. And that was with DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and Lee available at times.
Now, Ware, perhaps the preeminent pass rusher of this generation, jetted off to Denver after he and the Cowboys couldn't agree on a restructured contract, while Hatcher defected to NFC East rival Washington. The worst loss, however, was Lee, who tore his ACL during a drill on the first day of Dallas' offseason training activities on May 27.
When Marinelli surveys his depth chart these days, the "difference makers" are players like defensive end George Selvie, a journeyman with four previous NFL stops before flashing a little juice in 2013; defensive tackle Henry Melton, once a Pro-Bowl selection in Chicago before tearing his ACL; or rookie pass rusher Demarcus Lawrence, a player who Jerry Jones traded up to get on draft day and then assembled his cavalcade of "yes" men to act like they just won the Super Bowl for the television cameras after consummating the deal.
The reality of the Cowboys' situation on the defensive side of the ball is scary and it's conceivable Dallas' AFL team, the Desperados, might have a better chance to stop Eli Manning, Robert Griffin III and Nick Foles in 2014.
That said, the NFC East is shaping up as one of the NFL's worst divisions as a whole and any of the four teams could make a run toward the postseason despite significant holes, meaning Dallas is obligated to turn over every rock especially with the 34-year-old Tony Romo's shelf life as an upper echelon quarterback quickly approaching its expiration date.
The Cowboys did exactly that on Tuesday, acquiring the rights to former first- round pick Rolando McClain in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens.
McClain, who will be expected to replace Lee, arrives in north Texas with more physical gifts than any of his peers on the team's defense. Of course, he'll also show up with more baggage than your average socialite planning a weekend trip to Las Vegas.
McClain signed a one-year deal with the Ravens in April 2013, shortly after he was released by the Oakland Raiders, but abruptly retired a month later following an arrest for disorderly conduct. The one time Alabama All-American rejoined Baltimore this spring but again decided to leave the team just days after attempting his comeback after showing up to OTAs out of shape.
He entered the NFL in April 2010 as the eighth overall pick by the Raiders after a brilliant career in Tuscaloosa, one in which he was recognized as a unanimous All-American and the best college linebacker in the country after helping the Crimson Tide win the 2010 BCS National Championship.
A five-year, $40 million deal greeted McClain in Oakland, but his stay in the Bay Area ended prematurely, just months after the enigmatic Cotton State native was suspended for two games late in 2012 after clashing with Raiders head coach Dennis Allen. He was then declared inactive for what turned out to be his final three contests as a member of the Silver and Black.
According to sources within the Raiders, McClain was kicked out of practice on Nov. 29 of that season due to an "incident" with Allen. In what has become somewhat of a hallmark in his life, McClain then exacerbated the situation with some bad decision making, taking his gripes to social media and writing things like he was "no longer an Oakland Raider!!" and that he was "mentally done" and wishing "to be anywhere besides here."
He got his wish when the Raiders tapped out.
Everyone knew there would be a second chance because the talent remained. McClain recorded 62 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble in the 11 games he did play in 2012, a year after he set career bests with five sacks and 99 stops.
McClain's mulligan was supposed to come in the Charm City with a team that was in need of linebacking help after Ray Lewis' retirement and Dannell Ellerbe's defection to Miami in free agency. Any hope that a change of scenery would provide at least some perspective quickly evaporated when McClaim was arrested on disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges 10 days after signing.
That dustup with the law was the third time McClain was arrested since 2011. He was first charged in a shooting before police again arrested him in January on charges of having his car windows tinted too dark and then lying about his identity.
To date, McClain has skated on most of his mistakes. He was sentenced to jail on an assault charge after the shooting, but prosecutors eventually dismissed the case. Meanwhile, a judge dismissed the identity issue, although he was forced to pay a small fine for the window tint violation.
Following his "second retirement" in Baltimore this offseason, McClain told ESPN that this one was final.
"I'm done," McClain wrote in a text message. "If football made me complete I would play. But whenever I think of it my heart pulls me away from whatever reason."
The heart must have stopped pulling, though, because McClain's agent, Pat Dye, told The Baltimore Sun that his client now plans to play for the Cowboys in 2014.
Most NFL personnel people believe there are no desperate situations, only desperate people. In this instance, however, you have a team which is clearly frantic hooking up with a player who should be determined to save his NFL career.
It's a strange marriage, but it could work.
Before McClain was acquired, the nondescript Justin Durant was in line to replace Lee at middle linebacker for the Cowboys with DeVonte Holloman and rookie Anthony Hitchens pushing him. Now, Marinelli has a 24-year-old with the athleticism to stand out on any NFL defense.
07/02 11:31:34 ET