New England finds itself in a special situation for 2015. They feature the best linebacker tandem in the entire league in Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins, and they're returning captain Jerod Mayo from his second consecutive season ending injury. This trio could be the best grouping of Patriots linebackers of all time, and that's not hyperbole.
But it could also be a major work in progress. Mayo was still rounding into form from his 2013 injury when he was taken out last year, while Hightower had surgery after the Super Bowl that's expected to sideline him up to the opening kick off. Collins isn't from this planet, so an AlienGate scandal might still be in play. This group of linebackers might not be in a groove until the end of the season and all of the rust is knocked away.
The Patriots used to have a player like Dane Fletcher waiting in the wings if a starter went down, but the team opted to go without much depth at the position in 2014. The front office has kicked the tires on former starters like Colin McCarthy in potential buy-low scenarios, but there's one visit that sticks out.
McClain was the 8th overall pick of the 2010 draft by the Oakland Raiders. He has been on the Ravens and Cowboys. He has been arrested three times since entering the league, ranging from assault to window tint violations.
In his time with the Raiders, he was benched for being a "repeat offender" and was cut after the 2012 season.
McClain signed with the Ravens for the 2013 season, but instead announced his retirement and was out of football. Baltimore traded the rights to McClain to the Cowboys prior to the 2014 season.
When McClain joined the Cowboys, it was a low risk, high reward after a starter went down with an injury. McClain racked up over 100 tackles and was the leader of their defense, even earning a Pro Bowl nod.
McClain is also in line to receive a four-game fine for violating the league's substance abuse policy; this signifies a third violation. Due to his past, McClain hasn't been kicking up a lot of interest on the open market, but the Cowboys are definitely interested. The wording used by Rapoport implies that the Patriots are actually interested in offering a contract.
The addition of McClain would give the Patriots four starting quality linebackers, which would seem to be one too many- and might signify a possible departure of Jerod Mayo once he proves his health. Hightower and McClain were the starting linebackers of the Alabama defenses in 2008 and 2009 (playing behind former Patriots defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick).
Additionally, McClain shares an agent with Hightower (and seemingly every single draftable Alabama prospect or player), who is due for a contract extension in the upcoming year, so this could be nothing more that the Patriots giving a favor to McClain's agent to pick up leverage against the Cowboys.