Once upon a time, it looked like Rolando McClain was about to become the NFL's next great middle linebacker—a talented player from a powerhouse collegiate program picked in the top 10 overall of the 2010 NFL Draft to help overhaul the inside of the Oakland Raiders defense.
That turned out to be quite the fairy tale.
Now, after three disappointing seasons, McClain's NFL career appears to be over. As Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com reports, the 23-year-old McClain, who signed a one-year deal with the Ravens in April, has informed the team that he intends to retire.
McClain's retirement marks the unceremonious end of an NFL career that began with a great deal of promise.
McClain was one of the stars of Alabama's national championship team in 2009. During his junior season in Tuscaloosa, he tallied 105 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble. He was named a consensus All-American and was the winner of the Lambert and Butkus awards as college football's top linebacker.
When McClain declared for the 2010 NFL Draft, he was immediately hailed as the top player at his position in that year's class and one of the top defensive prospects overall.
Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller was effusive in his praise of McClain at the time for New Era Scouting.
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.
Miller was far from the only pundit to share this assessment. The Oakland Raiders apparently agreed, making McClain the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft and handing him a five-year, $40 million contract.
It was all downhill from there.
McClain played reasonably well as a rookie, racking up 85 tackles and half a sack while grading out as the NFL's 15th-ranked inside linebacker, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Granted, that wasn't what the Raiders were hoping for from a top-10 pick, but at least there was some room for optimism.
That optimism was short-lived.
Rather than taking the mythical "next step" as a player during his second season, McClain's play regressed early in the year. He constantly missed assignments and took bad angles. His work ethic and dedication to his craft were called into question, as rumors started to circulate about run-ins with coaches.
McClain rebounded a bit down the stretch, finishing the year as PFF's 26th-ranked inside linebacker after tallying 99 tackles and five sacks.
2011 also brought trouble with the law. In December, McClain was arrested in Alabama after allegedly firing a gun during a fight in his hometown. Charges were later dropped, but that didn't make accounts of the event, as reported by the Associated Press via ESPN, any less troubling.
"The victim told officers that following the fight, he crawled to his car," the police statement said. "He said that when he reached his car, Rolando McClain produced a pistol and aimed it at him. He said that while he was still on the ground, McClain walked over to him and put the gun to his head."
Police said the victim told officers "he begged McClain not to shoot him and that McClain took the gun away from his head, held it next to his ear and fired it."
McClain's disappointing performances on the field, and trouble off it, made the 2012 season a "make-or-break" campaign for him.
It was an unmitigated disaster.
McClain's play regressed yet again, to the point that the Raiders pulled him from passing situations in favor of rookie Miles Burris. This apparently did not sit well with McClain, and after a November dust-up in a team meeting, he lashed out.
As Marc Sessler of NFL.com reported at the time, McClain also stated that he was "mentally done" with the Raiders and was "looking forward to playing for an actual 'team.'"
Anyone could see that McClain's days in Oakland were numbered at that point, but just in case there was any doubt, he got himself arrested again in Alabama. This time, according to Houston Mitchell of The Los Angeles Times, McClain was hauled off for signing his name on a traffic citation as "(expletive) y'all."
Not surprisingly, that was more than enough for the Raiders, who released McClain in April.
Given his checkered past, many NFL teams likely wanted no part of McClain at that point, but fortune was on his side. The retirement of Ray Lewis and departure of Dannell Ellerbe in free agency left the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens in a bind at linebacker. The team decided to roll the dice that a change of scenery would lead to a turnaround for McClain, inking him to a one-year deal.
Those dice came up snake eyes.
McClain didn't make it a month with the Ravens before getting arrested...in Alabama...again.
The arrest was for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Many speculated afterward that the Ravens would probably just cut bait with McClain, especially after the team selected Arthur Brown in the second round of this year's NFL draft.
It looks like McClain beat them to the punch.
Granted, at only 23 years old, it's very possible that after a bit of time away from the game, McClain will reconsider this decision and wish to resume his playing career.
At this point, though, who would want him? What's the point of signing a player whose favorite off-field activity is apparently hopping on a plane, flying to Alabama and getting arrested as quickly as he possibly can?
It's too bad, really. Rolando McClain has the ability to be an excellent football player. However, that means nothing without hard work and dedication.
Unfortunately, the only things that McClain appears to be dedicated to are spending the $23 million in guaranteed money he bilked the Raiders for and fleshing out his collection of mug shots.
He'll have plenty of time for both now.