The worst-kept secret in the NFL this Thursday comes from the Oakland Raiders, who have not yet given the official word that former first-round pick Rolando McClain is released despite the rumors circling everywhere -- including from the player himself. At some point today, the official press release will be given, questions will be asked and teams can every other fan base will wonder if their team will be the one to attempt to revive the once-promising career.
The situation has been unfolding in Oakland since Reggie McKenzie arrived as the team's new general manager determined to establish a new tone of professionalism and mode of operations. The team has made several moves without concern for previous relationship or investment in the hope of changing the culture. McClain was just the latest example.
When McClain missed practice on Wednesday, the only response from head coach Dennis Allen was a terse one: "McClain didn't practice. Team-related issues." However, McClain took to Facebook to announce he was no longer on the team before later clarifying that he was "waiting on his papers". In short, the player said what the team has not yet said: McClain is gone.
This opens up a number of possibilities for other teams who remember McClain as perhaps the top rated linebacker in the 2010 NFL Draft. Many teams in the top ten were rumored to go with McClain -- even the Chiefs at No. 5 who ended up selecting safety Eric Berry. Mel Kiper had McClain locked into his top ten players, and named the top linebacker overall.
Even more, SB Nation's own Dan Kadar said this trajectory for McClain as it has played out would be a "total shock":
McClain is the most sure-thing as a middle linebacker prospect in the draft since Patrick Willis. He's a prototypical combination of size, athleticism and intelligence. If McClain somehow turns out to be a bust, it will be a shock.
In the end, it's exactly what happened. One Bay Area team got their middle linebacker, the other is left searching for an answer next season (perhaps Notre Dame's Manti Te'o would fit?). For now, McClain will soon reach the waiver wire and other teams will establish their new point of view on McClain as the Raiders figure out how to handle the loss.
For a team like the Chiefs, it's an interesting quandary. The Chiefs have the first crack at any player who is released, so McClain is there for the taking if they so desire. The team plays a familiar 3-4 defense that McClain not only played inside at Alabama, but he even called the shots on defense as the captain. Jovan Belcher has yet to convince anyone that an upgrade is unnecessary, and the Chiefs could use the rest of this season to bring him in and see what they have.
However, the reality is that McClain is simply not a good player at this point in the NFL. Draft history is filled with busts, and even with strong coaching, a new direction and professionals like Richard Seymour around, McClain couldn't make an impact on a team desperate for playmakers. In addition, his arrest on gun charges last year at this time further cloud his character and appeal.
The Chiefs have reasons to pull the trigger on a move like this (pun intended), but they have every reason to stay away as well. A reclamation project isn't something that exists on paper -- every player affects the culture of the team and the Chiefs have to be certain that McClain will be a net gain if they bring him in. Then again, McClain was once considered a "sure thing" as recently as 2010. It will be a tough decision for any team, and it starts with Kansas City.