Cowboys Charged With Determining Uncertain Future Of Current Linebacker Corps

IRVING, Texas – The cupboard is either stocked or barren, depending on how you want to look at the Cowboys' linebacker situation.

On one hand, the Cowboys have a combined 48 appearances, 37 starts and 342 tackles on their roster from their 2014 linebackers. The 2014 interception leader, Bruce Carter, is on the linebacking corps. None of this includes the team's best linebacker, Sean Lee, who is expected to return from a torn ACL this spring.

At the exact same time, all of that production has an uncertain future. Three of the Cowboys' most dependable linebackers – Carter, Rolando McClain and Justin Durant – will become free agents on March 10. Only Lee and Anthony Hitchens, who was a rookie last season, are guaranteed to be members of the team when the offseason program opens.

"That's another area that we have to address and get our hands around," said Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones at Senior Bowl practices on Wednesday. "There's a lot of moving parts on all those guys."

It might be the most fluid situation on the Cowboys' entire roster. Depending on how contract negotiations pan out, they could return as many as five linebackers with starting experience in their current scheme.

They could also return just two of the five – Hitchens and Lee – if the trio of Carter, Durant and McClain opt elsewhere in the coming months. There's also the matter of Lee's $5.4 million salary cap number, which the Cowboys might decide to restructure given his year-long absence.

"Whether it's Sean, whether it's Durant, whether it's McClain, Bruce – all those, we'll sit down with our coaching staff and our scouting staff and make good decisions," Jones said.

Injuries are bound to play a role in that decision-making process. Durant went to season-ending injured reserve with a torn biceps after six weeks. McClain had well-documented struggles with injuries in 2014 – whether it was his groin, his knee or the two concussions he suffered in the final week of the season.

Durant, for his part, was optimistic he might return to the team in 2015, as he expects to be healthy by the start of Organized Team Activities in May.

"Hopefully so," he said Jan. 12, the day after Dallas was knocked out of the playoffs. "I'm going to see what happens and just let my agent take care of all that."

It leaves the Cowboys with a fair bit of work to do if they are retain the same structure at the position. Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said there was plenty to feel optimistic about as the team gets ready for negotiations.

"I would say that most of our linebackers' arrows are up as far as they played," he said. "We have to sit down and work that through as far as what we'll do contractually there."

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