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Eisenberg: No Harm, No Foul With Rolando McClain

Posted May 18, 2013

Baltimore can handle the retirement of Rolando McClain, the latest Theoretical Raven.

The Ravens’ decision to sign linebacker Rolando McClain was, I thought, a pretty shrewd move.

They added a first-round talent, just 23, paying what amounts to peanuts, none of it guaranteed. Their only gamble was hoping that McClain could get himself together and stay out of trouble, a dice roll that seemed worth taking given the Ravens’ no-nonsense locker room culture.

It didn’t work out, as McClain quickly found trouble again in Decatur, Ala., and then announced this week that he was walking away from the NFL. He said he wants to straighten himself out before he plays any more football, certainly a mature idea. Whatever his issues are, here’s hoping he solves them. 

When the Ravens acceded to his wishes by placing him on their reserve-retired list, McClain joined a select group of much-trumpeted players who belonged to the Ravens long enough to fit into their blueprint, but never actually played a down. Let’s call them the Theoretical Ravens.

Terrell Owens heads the group. You might recall that the Ravens obtained him in a 2004 trade with the San Francisco 49ers, only to see the deal voided and Owens gain free agency and sign with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was never anything other than a theoretical Raven.

Neither was Andre Rison, the headline-generating wide receiver who came to Baltimore with Art Modell’s franchise in 1996, only to be released shortly before the Ravens’ inaugural training camp. It was a shame in a way, as Rison actually expressed a desire to move here from Cleveland, where some fans booed the team after Modell’s move was announced.

“Baltimore’s our home now. Baltimore, here we come,” Rison said. (He also said a few other things, mixing in plenty of expletives.)

But Rison’s journey to an actual playing field ultimately fell short, as did McClain’s. The talented but troubled young linebacker, formerly of the Oakland Raiders, made plenty of news but no tackles in his 33 days on the Ravens’ active roster.

His decision to walk away doesn’t have a major impact on the team’s prospects for 2013. Since his contract wasn’t guaranteed, he costs nothing against the salary cap. And the Ravens just used one of their top draft picks to add another player at his position, Arthur Brown, who is expected to become a starter, perhaps right away.

Yes, depth at inside linebacker remains a concern with Ray Lewis retired, Dannell Ellerbe in Miami and Jameel McClain still not cleared to play after missing the end of last season with a neck injury. Needless to say, the Ravens need Jameel to make it back at 100 percent.

But frankly, the Ravens have added so many new parts to their defense that it probably can withstand whatever happens at inside linebacker. The interior has been fortified with Chris Canty, Marcus Spears and Brandon Williams joining Haloti Ngata and Art Jones. Elvis Dumervil should produce a strong pass rush paired with Terrell Suggs. The new blood at safety includes top draft pick Matt Elam.

There are also a handful of other candidates to take snaps at inside linebacker. Josh Bynes made three starts in 2012 and showed signs of becoming the latest undrafted free agent linebacker to produce for the Ravens. Albert McClellan has primarily played outside, but also has the strength and athleticism to move inside. Bryan Hall is being shifted to linebacker from the interior, an interesting move.

However it shakes out, there almost surely is enough talent on hand to give the Ravens what they need at the position, especially given the blend of new and old personnel around it.

That being the case, why did they bother to sign Rolando McClain in the first place? It’s a fair question. But the answer is they did it because it made sense. Basically, it was their spin on baseball’s “Moneyball” philosophy of finding value in the marketplace. The Ravens located a high-caliber player available at a steep discount, with favorable risk-reward odds.

It ended up not helping this time, but it’s a smart approach. And unlike with expensive free agents or high draft picks, there’s no fallout when it doesn’t work out. The whistle just blows. No harm, no foul.

Please Note

The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on BaltimoreRavens.com represent those of individual authors, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the Baltimore Ravens' organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. Authors' views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Ravens officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.

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