The Dallas Cowboys' defense has taken another hit in a difficult offseason. This one feels familiar.
Rolando McClain was suspended 10 games Thursday for violating the NFL's policy against substances of abuse, the league announced Thursday. McClain was also suspended four games for violating the same policy to start the 2015 season.
The Cowboys' defense has a bus full of questions entering the season, including three suspended starters. The league also announced defensive end Demarcus Lawrence's previously reported four-game suspension has been upheld. Fellow pass rusher Randy Gregory is also suspended four games to start the year. On top of that, linebacker Sean Lee is coming off knee surgery and third-round pick Maliek Collins broke his foot during offseason workouts. Restricted free agent signing Benson Mayowa, a defensive end, recently underwent knee surgery.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli could move Anthony Hitchens to middle linebacker, with Kyle Wilber or Andrew Gachkar entering the starting lineup.
This continues what has been a rocky career for McClain. Selected No. 8 overall by the Oakland Raiders in the 2010 draft, McClain has struggled with motivation. The Raiders suspended him for conduct detrimental to the team after kicking him out of practice in 2012 before subsequently releasing him in 2013. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail in 2012 after being found guilty on charges of assault, reckless endangerment, menacing and wrongful discharge of a firearm. He also was once arrested for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, although those charges were eventually dropped.
McClain briefly retired in 2013 when he was a member of the Baltimore Ravens, missing the entire season. He returned to the field in 2014 following a trade to the Cowboys. Owner Jerry Jones took a chance on McClain and has mostly been rewarded over the last two seasons with solid play as the team's starting middle linebacker. But there were signs that the relationship was already fraying this offseason.
Cowboys.com writer Bryan Broaddus wrote that Cowboys coaches were "not happy" with McClain after he skipped voluntary work this offseason. The team drafted Jaylon Smith from Notre Dame in the second round, with the plan to have Smith take over at middle linebacker in 2017 when he's healthy. McClain re-signed with the Cowboys on a one-year, $4 million contract this offseason.
There is no guarantee that McClain will have a starting job (or a job at all) when he is eligible to return to the team. No matter how the Cowboys choose to line up early in the season, they will be missing a lot of key players. It is getting harder to imagine McClain being on the roster in 2017.