The current status of the great linebacker Ray Lewis suggests Rolando McClain still has time to reconstitute himself and become the productive team leader the Raiders thought they were getting two years ago.

A closer inspection of McClain, who on Thursday was sentenced to a 180-day jail term in Decatur, Ala., implies otherwise.

Through his first two seasons in Oakland, the middle linebacker -- the team's first-round pick in 2010, taken eighth overall -- has shown a low aptitude for leadership and been mostly unproductive.

He's often out of position, usually invisible at key moments and generally unwilling to publicly hold himself accountable. He has exhibited many of the characteristics new Raiders management -- general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen -- have made clear are unwelcome.

Considering his pedigree as a megastar at Alabama, in the frequently glorified Southeastern Conference, McClain has been a $40 million ($23 mil guaranteed) bust.

Still, this sentence is a blow to the Raiders. McKenzie and Allen would like to have gotten a firsthand assessment to determine what McClain might offer -- on and off the field. That they did not acquire a veteran middle linebacker suggests they expected to have McClain.

Pending appeal, McClain will begin serving time June 1. If he serves 180 days from June 1, he won't wear a uniform in 2012.

And even if his sentence is shortened, he still faces league discipline. The last NFL player to unlawfully fire a gun, Plaxico Burress, spent 22 months in prison. His indefinite NFL suspension ran concurrently, and upon release he had to apply for reinstatement.


Advertisement

The Raiders now must make plans for a season without McClain. They might even decide to cut ties completely and simply start looking for a new replacement.

Oakland last month drafted linebacker Miles Burris from San Diego State. Taken in the fourth round, Burris is downright hyperactive. He has the makeup to be good, but he's a rookie who would have to prove he can play middle linebacker in the NFL.

The Raiders also might consider Aaron Curry, drafted fourth overall in 2009 by the Seahawks, only to wash out in Seattle. Curry was acquired last season and showed flashes of ability. Most of his playing time, however, was spent at outside linebacker. Rarely did he line up in the middle.

After that, it's veteran backup Travis Goethel or seventh-round pick Nate Stupar.

As bad as this may seem for the Raiders, it's not a complete disaster. It's not as if they're trying to replace Patrick Willis.

But McClain's conviction and sentencing still leaves at least a temporary hole in the defense -- which happens to be the team's most ineffective unit. This weakness was one of the factors in McKenzie's decision to replace former coach Hue Jackson with Allen, who last season served as defensive coordinator in Denver.

Though the Raiders have some work to do if they are to patch themselves, McClain represents a test case for their tolerance of questionable character. The NFL is not for angels, but McKenzie and Allen have expressed desire to move ahead with good citizens.

Based on McClain's contributions through his first two seasons, it's entirely conceivable they decide the team is better off without him.

Meanwhile, McClain has some heavy labor ahead in an attempt to wipe this stain from his reputation. The photo taken after his arrest, in which he is grinning broadly while being handcuffed made a troubling statement about his maturity and ambition.

Now he must cope with the conviction and, pending appeal, the sentence.

McClain was found guilty of all four charges he faced -- third-degree assault, reckless endangerment, menacing, unlawful discharging of a firearm within city limits -- and received 45 days for each misdemeanor.

Once he goes behind bars, he'll have plenty of time to reflect on his actions in Decatur on the evening of Nov. 30, 2011.

He'll also have plenty to time to ponder the direction in which he wants to take his life and career.

Rolando surely is aware that Lewis, the Baltimore linebacker, in 2000 was facing more serious charges. Lewis agreed to a plea deal, received probation and found a way to salvage everything he almost lost. He's now considered the strongest leader in the NFL.

McClain would be fortunate if the Raiders gave him another chance to show he, too, can be a better person and player than he was before he broke the law. The Raiders aren't obligated to do so, and nobody could blame them if they declined.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/1montepoole.