NEW ORLEANS – Defensive end Greg Hardy and linebacker Rolando McClain are eligible to return from their respective four-game NFL suspensions on Monday – and the Cowboys' thinning roster needs all the help it can get.
McClain, the Cowboys' starting middle linebacker last season, has been allowed to work out at the Cowboys' facility during his suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Hardy has not been able to do so under the terms of his suspension for conduct detrimental to the league.
When healthy and available, both are impact players on defense.
Hardy, signed to a one-year contract in March, made the Pro Bowl in 2013 with the Carolina Panthers and registered 33 sacks in his first three NFL seasons. He began working into Rod Marinelli's defense during training camp and preseason before his suspension took effect Sept. 5.
McClain re-signed with the Cowboys in April after ranking second on defense in tackles (108) and first in tackles for loss (9). He missed the offseason program and training camp following a knee scope but returned to practice near the end of preseason before his suspension also began Sept. 5.
The Cowboys must eventually create two open spots on their 53-man roster to activate Hardy and McClain from the Reserve/Suspended list.
Hardy will help fortify a defensive line currently without rookie pass rusher Randy Gregory (high ankle sprain). McClain provides another playmaker at linebacker. Team captain/starting linebacker Sean Lee exited Sunday's 26-20 overtime loss to the Saints in the first half after taking a blow to the head.
Offensively, of course, the team must continue to adjust without quarterback Tony Romo (fractured collarbone) and wide receiver Dez Bryant (foot surgery) for a while longer. Running back Lance Dunbar (knee) and wide receiver Brice Butler (hamstring) were injured Sunday.
"The good thing that came for us is the players that are out here, the guys that we're asking to step up, they shouldn't be as good as the ones they're replacing but they're playing hard and competing and I'm proud of that. Really proud of that," Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said after the game. "Our coaching staff deserves credit for how hard they're playing."
Hardy and McClain should help.