Joe Mays

How The Cowboys Could Replace Rolando McClain

For the second consecutive season, Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain will serve a suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on substance abuse. In 2015, Dallas only had to survive without McClain for a quarter of the season, but given that McClain is facing a 10-game ban for 2016, the Cowboys will need to more seriously consider how they’re going to make up for the loss of their middle linebacker.

We’ve examined how Dallas might go about finding a replacement for McClain, looking at players already on the Cowboys’ roster, free agents sitting on the open market, and veterans who could be on the roster bubble with their respective clubs. Let’s dive in…

Internal options:

The primary name being floated to replace McClain in the middle is third-year linebacker Anthony Hitchens, whom the Cowboys selected in the fourth round of the 2014 draft. Thing is, Hitchens was already a starter — he played on the inside in Anthony Hitchens (Vertical)McClain’s absence last year, and then moved to the outside, ultimately seeing action on about half of Dallas’ defensive snaps. So if Hitchens is being counted on to man the middle full-time, including in sub packages, the Cowboys would need to find a replacement at strong-side linebacker, meaning Kyle Wilber and/or Andrew Gachkar could see meaningful snaps after spending most of their respective careers as special teams players.

[RELATED: Updated Dallas Cowboys depth chart]

Gachkar, meanwhile, is another option to fill in at middle linebacker, and he has experience at the position. If chosen, Gachkar would likely be a two-down player, as Pro Football Focus’ grades have shown him to be effective against the run but a liability in pass coverage. The 27-year-old has never been a major defensive contributor — he was forced to step into the starting lineup when the Chargers suffered a variety of injuries at the linebacker position in 2014, but even then, he only played on 36.5% of San Diego’s defensive snaps.

The “wild card” in this race is second-year player Mark Nzeocha, according to Bryan Broaddus of the Cowboys’ website. A seventh-round pick in last year’s draft, Nzeocha only appeared in two games during his rookie season, managing 14 snaps, all of which came on special teams. Extremely athletic, Nzeocha was all over the field at Wyoming, playing safety and all three linebacker positions. His learning curve might be steep, but he clearly has all the physical tools to play the position.

A source tells PFR that the Cowboys are, for the most part, satisfied with the current state of their linebacker room, and are looking forward to have their young players compete for playing time while McClain is suspended. Dallas, says the source, hasn’t shown a lot of interest in scouring the free agent market for substitutes, so one of Hitchens, Gachkar, or Nzeocha might be the favorite to earn significant snaps this fall.

Free agents:

Donald Butler — After selecting Denzel Perryman in 2015 and Joshua Perry in this year’s draft, the Chargers parted ways with Butler, who had spent the past five seasons with the club. At age-27, Butler is the youngest free agent option on this list, but he’s coming off the worst season of his career, having posted just 40 tackles during the 2016 campaign. Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune accused Butler of “losing interest” after receiving a massive extension prior to the 2014 season, so perhaps some other clubs have made that same assessment.Justin Durant (vertical)

Justin Durant — Durant started 12 games for the Falcons last year, but prior to his time in Atlanta he spent two seasons with the Cowboys, so at the very least he’d offer some familiarity with Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli‘s playbook. Versatility is another point in Durant’s favor, as he played mostly inside linebacker with Atlanta and Detroit, roamed the middle during his Jacksonville tenure, and moved between both positions with the Cowboys.

A.J. Hawk — The Bengals signed Hawk to a two-year deal before the 2015 campaign, but despite injuries limiting fellow linebacker Vontaze Burfict to just 10 games, Hawk rarely saw the field, playing on roughly a quarter of Cincinnati’s defensive snaps. Hawk recently told Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer that although he’s aware a club might not express interest until late in camp (or perhaps after the season begins), he’s staying in shape in the hopes of receiving a phone call.

David Hawthorne — Like Durant, Hawthorne offers positional versatility, having seen action at both inside and outside linebacker. In 2015, Hawthorne was shifted to the weak side in favor of rookie Stephone Anthony, but was then benched, declared inactive, and ultimately released after an unproductive season. Still, he’s got 83 career starts under his belt, and would presumably feel comfortable in the middle of the Dallas defense.

Keep reading for more external options that could be on the Cowboys’ radar…

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Chargers Sign Joe Mays, Cut J.D. Walton

TUESDAY, 3:07pm: The Chargers have officially signed Mays, cutting center J.D. Walton to create room on the roster, the team announced today in a press release.

MONDAY, 5:27pm: The Chargers are expected to sign veteran inside linebacker Joe Mays, according to Adam Caplan of (on Twitter). San Diego has been dealing with injuries at the position and the experienced Mays will provide them with additional depth.

Mays, 30, only has one 16-game season under his belt, compiling 75 tackles with the Broncos in 2011. In the past three seasons, he’s made only 28 appearances (20 starts), collecting 107 tackles and one sack. Mays was cut by the Chiefs in March, and he signed with New York in April before being released in September. Mays’ deal with Gang Green was reportedly for one year at the minimum salary, with a $870K base salary, $20K first-game roster bonus, and a $60K signing bonus. The move saved the Jets $585K and left them with $60K in dead money.

Mays auditioned for the Browns earlier this month but he was not signed.

North Notes: Ravens, Browns, Mays, Vikings

Having already acquired Chris Givens and Will Davis via trades in recent weeks, the Ravens will continue to explore ways to upgrade the roster. However, as Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun writes, the club probably isn’t just one player away, so it’s unlikely that Baltimore would give up multiple future draft picks or other assets to plug several holes.

Let’s round up a few more items from across the NFL’s two North divisions….

  • The Ravens are off to a disappointing 1-4 start, but head coach John Harbaugh said on Monday that he’s not considering making any changes to his coaching staff, per Clifton Brown of “Our coaches are doing a good job,” Harbaugh said. “We just got to collectively find a way to finish games and get the job done. We’ve got tough challenges that we’re facing, but we’ve got just the men for the job.”
  • Free agent linebacker Joe Mays is working out for the Browns today, according to Adam Caplan of (via Twitter). Mays, who turned 30 this year, is well-traveled, having started games for the Broncos, Texans, and Chiefs since 2012.
  • Center John Sullivan, who is on the IR-DTR list, and cornerback Josh Robinson, who remains on the PUP list, are optimistic about returning to the Vikings‘ active roster in the coming weeks, according to Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, who notes that the club will have to make at least a couple roster moves to create room for the returning players. Robinson is eligible to return as early as Week 7, while Sullivan could be activated for Week 9.

Jets Cut Joe Mays

The Jets have released veteran linebacker Joe Mays, reports ESPN’s Josina Anderson (via Twitter). The 30-year-old was cut by the Chiefs in March, and he signed with New York back in April.

The deal was reportedly for one year at the minimum salary, with a $870K base salary, $20K first-game roster bonus, and a $60K signing bonus. The move will save the team $585K, and they’ll be left with $60K in dead money.

The former sixth-round pick only has one 16-game season under his belt, compiling 75 tackles with the Broncos in 2011. In the past three seasons, he’s made only 28 appearances (20 starts), collecting 107 tackles and one sack.

Waiving Mays would indicate that the Jets are ready to roll with Jamari Lattimore and Erin Henderson as their reserve middle linebackers.

Contract Details: Crabtree, Ridley, Casey

The details for a few of the more notable recent free agent signings are in, so let’s take a look at some specifics, starting with the newest wide receiver in Oakland….

  • Michael Crabtree, WR (Raiders): One year, $3.2MM base value. $1.4MM base salary. $1.3Mm signing bonus. $250K workout bonus. $250K in per-game roster bonuses. $1.8MM in not-likely-to-be-earned incentives — $400K for Pro Bowl and $1.4MM based on catches or receiving yards. Lowest incentive threshold is $400K for 70 catches or 900 yards. Can max out at $1.4MM by exceeding 100 catches or 1,400 yards (three Twitter links via Joel Corry of
  • Stevan Ridley, RB (Jets): One year, $1.25MM base value. $750K base salary. $80K signing bonus. $50K workout bonus. $20K first-game roster bonus. $350K in per-game roster bonuses. Has injury waiver, which voids if he’s on 53-man roster in Week 1 (Twitter links via Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun).
  • James Casey, TE (Broncos): One year, $1.25MM base value. $750K base salary. $500K roster bonus. Has injury waiver, split salary (Twitter link via Wilson).
  • Joe Mays, LB (Jets): One year, minimum salary benefit. $870K base salary. $20K first-game roster bonus. $60K signing bonus (Twitter link via Wilson).
  • John Kuhn, FB (Packers): One year, minimum salary benefit. $870K base salary. $25K workout bonus. $25K Pro Bowl incentive (Twitter link via Wilson).
  • Zackary Bowman, CB (Dolphins): One year, minimum salary benefit. $745K base salary. $80K signing bonus. Has injury waiver (Twitter link via Wilson).

Jets Sign Joe Mays

MONDAY: The Jets have officially announced the signing of Mays.

FRIDAY: The Jets are expected to sign free agent linebacker Joe Mays to a contract, according to Adam Caplan of, who tweets that Mays will likely sign by early next week. Caplan first reported on Wednesday that the veteran linebacker was receiving interest from the Jets.

A seven-year veteran, Mays has spent time with the Eagles, Broncos, Texans, and Chiefs since being selected in the sixth round of the 2008 draft. In 2014, Mays spent the first half of the season on the injured reserve list with the designation to return due to a wrist injury. When he returned to the field, he recorded 20 tackles and a fumble recovery in eight games for Kansas City — he was cut by the team last month.

The Jets appear to be focused on adding linebacker depth this week, having already reached an agreement to bring aboard another free agent, former Viking Erin Henderson. Per Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun (Twitter link), Henderson’s one-year deal with New York doesn’t include a signing bonus, so he’s certainly not locked into a roster spot. Mays and Henderson figure to be among the players vying for playing time at the inside linebacker positions on Todd Bowles‘ defense.

Mays, who turns 30 in July, also visited the Chargers in free agency.

East Notes: Eagles, Peerman, Jets, Mays

Having signed DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews already this offseason, the Eagles are apparently still considering running backs. Adam Caplan of reports (via Twitter) that the team hosted former Bengals back Cedric Peerman for a visit on Tuesday.

Of course, unlike Murray and Mathews, Peerman contributes much more on special teams than on offense — he racked up an impressive 18 regular season tackles in kick and punt coverage last season, per Pro Football Focus.

Let’s check in on some other items out of the NFL’s two East divisions….

  • If running back has been the focus of the Eagles‘ offseason on the offensive side of the ball, they’ve been keying in on cornerbacks on the defensive side. Geoff Mosher of writes that the club is hosting Connecticut defensive back Byron Jones for a pre-draft visit after taking a look at Jalen Collins yesterday. Philadelphia has signed cornerbacks Byron Maxwell, Walter Thurmond, and E.J. Biggers within the last month.
  • According to Caplan (via Twitter), the Jets have some interest in signing free agent linebacker Joe Mays, who visited the Chargers after being cut by the Chiefs. New York appears to be working on addressing its linebacker depth this week, having agreed to terms with Erin Henderson yesterday.
  • Earlier today, we learned that free agent wide receiver Wes Welker will be paying a visit to the Dolphins.

West Notes: McDonald, Thomas, Mays

Multiple teams are interested in former 49ers starting defensive lineman Ray McDonald, according to’s Eric Branch. The 49ers released McDonald, who played eight seasons in San Francisco with the last four coming as a starter, last December after his arrest for suspicion of felony domestic violence.

The 30-year-old McDonald’s pursuit of a career elsewhere will probably have to wait until his case is resolved, agent Tom Condon told Branch.

In other news across the league’s Western divisions …

  • The latest surprising setback to the 49ers’ linebacking corps comes from an offseason injury, not retirement. Backup outside linebacker Chase Thomas showed up at Stanford’s pro day limping after tearing his ACL at an offseason workout at the university, Branch reports. The Stanford alum played five games with the 49ers last year, oscillating between the practice squad and the 53-man roster. According to Bay Area News Group’s Cam Inman, Thomas will be the ninth 49er forced to recover from an ACL tear this offseason, joining notable names NaVorro Bowman, who missed all of last season after suffering his tear in the 2013 NFC championship game, Darnell Dockett and running back Kendall Hunter.
  • Journeyman linebacker Joe Mays will visit the Chargers, Fox Sports’ Alex Marvez notes on Twitter. Mays spent the 2014 season in the Chiefs‘ 3-4 defense after previously suiting up for the Eagles and Broncos. The 5-foot-11 inside linebacker who’s three months away from 30 missed half of last year due to wrist surgery.
  • Former Bills starting tackle Chris Hairston is also visiting the Chargers today, ESPN’s John Keim said (via Twitter). A fourth-round pick in 2011, Hairston started 15 games his first two seasons and played in 16 last year as a reserve.

Chiefs Cut Joe Mays

The Chiefs have moved closer toward getting under the cap in advance of Tuesday’s deadline, announcing today in a press release that they’ve terminated the contract of linebacker Joe Mays. There had been one season left on the two-year pact Mays signed with the team last offseason.

Mays, who turns 30 this July, was coming off a solid year with the Texans, in which he started 13 games for the club, when he signed that two-year contract with Kansas City. However, he didn’t get a chance to play much for the Chiefs in 2014, recording 20 tackles in just eight games, and spending a chunk of the season on the injured reserve list due to a wrist injury.

By releasing the run-stopping linebacker, the Chiefs will reduce his $3.7MM cap hit to just $1MM in dead money, creating $2.7MM in cap savings. After cutting Mays, the team still needs to clear about $3MM more from its cap to get under the threshold before Tuesday.

As a vested veteran, Mays won’t have to pass through waivers, and can immediately sign with any other team.

AFC Mailbags: Jets, Chiefs, Jags, Titans

We took a look at ESPN’s NFC mailbags earlier today. Let’s now check out some notes from the AFC…