McClain's Second Chance Could Lead To Bynes' Big Break
When Rolando McClain was released by the Oakland Raiders, few saw him finding another job in the NFL so easily. Even fewer people thought he would land with a franchise such as the Baltimore Ravens. GM Ozzie Newsome isn't one to take risks for marginal talents, but that's exactly what he did with McClain...at least, that was the perception initially.
McClain was signed to a contract that doesn't result in any cap hit if he is released. He only received $700,000 for one year and a large portion of that was dependent on playing time during the regular season. The Ravens were willing to give McClain a second chance after spending his career with a struggling franchise and dealing with some off-the-field issues as a young professional, but there is talk that they are considering his future after he was arrested this offseason.
The inside linebacker pleaded guilty on a charge for an illegal window tint, while a false identity charge was ultimately dropped after he signed an expletive on the citation form he received instead of his name. McClain said in an interview with Madison Weekly News, "I tried to get my brother to calm down. Police thought I cussed them. It wasn't me. They arrested the wrong guy. I haven't cried in years, but I had tears in my eyes. I wasn't going to let my brother get into a fight."
Although assistant GM Eric DeCosta initially spoke about second chances and how McClain deserved one – according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network – DeCosta said that when the team looked to sign Smith. McClain’s status with his new team is uncertain as things currently stand.
An understated aspect of this could be the presence of 23-year-old ILB Josh Bynes. Bynes is entering his third season this year after going undrafted in 2011 out of Auburn. He wasn't involved at all as a rookie, being on the active roster for just one game, but benefited from the multiple injuries to teammates in his second season to be on the roster for 10 games. Much like the recently-departed Dannell Ellerbe, Bynes is following a path that could see him become a contributor in his third year, before potentially starting in his fourth. Coincidentally, Bynes and Ellerbe are very similar in appearance. And, maybe not so coincidentally, they play with a similar style on the field.
Bynes saw extended playing time against the Washington Redskins, Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals in 2012. In those games he tallied 27 total tackles and two pass deflections. While he still needs to develop in order to be considered a long-term piece of the defense, he has as much potential as McClain – if not more – without the character concerns.
Even though McClain was a first-round pick and Bynes went undrafted, McClain's greatest strengths are against the run, while he is considered a liability in pass coverage. That is the trademark of old-fashioned linebackers who don't fit the prototype of today's game. Linebackers today must be athletic enough to turn in open space, instinctive enough to drop into zones and strong enough to stick with tight ends. Those who can do all that and still be effective against the run are the players who will earn roster spots and continue to make a living over the primes of their careers. Bynes may not be that just yet, but he is definitely closer to it than McClain.
Outside of his reputation, there is very little that McClain has over Bynes outside of experience. With Jameel McClain and Arthur Brown slated to start this season, Bynes is in the perfect position to gain more experience without being relied upon to fill a prominent role as a starter. By the time 2014 rolls around, Bynes and Brown could be the team's starters, while McClain is more likely to be an afterthought. Obviously, the Ravens signed McClain for a reason, but it must be remembered that he was far from a priority free agent. Remember, Baltimore guaranteed him very little in the first place.