IRVING, Texas - Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain has been suspended for the first four games for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, putting two key Dallas defenders on the sideline to start the season with pass rusher Greg Hardy's 10-game ban.
The league said in a statement Thursday that McClain would be suspended without pay and eligible to return for Dallas' Week 5 game against New England. He can participate in training camp and all four preseason games.
The suspension is likely to cost McClain more than his base salary because of bonuses tied to playing time in the one-year, $3 million contract he signed this offseason.
"I apologize to my family, the Cowboys organization, my teammates and Cowboys fans for my mistake," McClain said in a statement issued through the players association. "I will not break the rules of my profession in the future, and I regret my error."
Hardy has appealed his suspension for the defensive end's role in a domestic violence case. Hardy also is eligible for training camp and preseason games.
McClain sat out the 2013 season and twice walked away from football before reviving his career with a solid season for the Cowboys last year.
But it's been a rocky offseason for the former top 10 pick by Oakland who had three disappointing seasons with the Raiders. He was released in 2013 and picked up by Baltimore, which traded him to the Cowboys for a late-round draft pick just before training camp last summer. He never played for the Ravens.
McClain had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and stayed in his home state of Alabama for the initial rehabilitation work. He missed most offseason workouts before rejoining the Cowboys for mandatory minicamp last month.
McClain, who turns 26 this month, was in and out of the lineup last season because of the knee injuries along with hamstring and concussion issues. But he still finished with 108 tackles, second on the team behind safety Barry Church.
With the Cowboys set to start McClain at middle linebacker, that job likely goes to second-year player Anthony Hitchens. Dallas appears likely to leave Sean Lee at weakside linebacker in his return from a knee injury that sidelined him all last season and led to the trade for McClain.