Cowboys, others wary of Malik McDowell after ATV accident – even with 'Dr. Drew' diagnosis

Charles RobinsonNFL columnist

PHOENIX — Approaching nearly two years since highly touted Michigan State defensive end Malik McDowell was selected in the second round of the 2017 draft, the mystery over his medical chart and future NFL status remain as murky as ever.

The Dallas Cowboys might be interested in resurrecting his career. The Seattle Seahawks, who drafted McDowell and recently released him following a lengthy recovery from an ATV accident, clearly are not. And somewhere between the assessment of those two teams (and potentially others) is agent Drew Rosenhaus, who declared to reporters this week that McDowell has been medically cleared by independent doctors.

That latter revelation invited skepticism from the Seahawks this week, with coach Pete Carroll once again reiterating that McDowell’s medical evaluation led to his release.

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“The doctors wouldn’t let him play,” Carroll said flatly on Tuesday at the league’s annual owners meetings. “He had an accident, he was injured and he couldn’t play.”

An ATV accident sidelined defensive lineman Malik McDowell's pro career. (AP)
An ATV accident sidelined defensive lineman Malik McDowell's pro career. (AP)

Told that Rosenhaus had claimed this week that independent doctors cleared McDowell, Carroll delivered a less-than-subtle barb.

“Drew said that?” Carroll replied. “Dr. Drew. That makes sense now.”

At least one thing is clear from talking to a handful of league sources this week: NFL teams don’t care about the opinion of Rosenhaus’ “independent doctors.”

McDowell’s future will be 100 percent in the hands of the medical staffs of the teams that show any interest. Not to mention the legal departments, which will be looking to mitigate any risks taken in an era where any previous head trauma, which McDowell sustained in his accident, is scrutinized like never before.

“His doctors believe he’s ready to go,” Rosenhaus told a handful of reporters this week. “We’ve got experts that are saying he will be cleared. So hopefully he will be able to continue his career, possibly [in Dallas]. He has been cleared independently. But the Seahawks tried their best to work with him and unfortunately they didn’t feel he could continue to play.”

According to sources familiar with McDowell’s time in Seattle and his visit with the Cowboys, there is a lot to sort through when getting to the football end of the equation. In Seattle, sources said there was concern not only about the medical evaluation, but also about the amount of weight and muscle mass McDowell lost in the ensuing months following the accident.

McDowell weighed 295 pounds at the scouting combine in 2017, but one Seattle source said he was “significantly” below that weight in 2018. So much so that some of the photos McDowell posted on his Instagram account from Miami last offseason caught the eye of some Seahawks evaluators. McDowell eventually took down the photos of his slimmer frame and discontinued his Instagram account altogether.

Seattle’s patience during McDowell’s recovery was also tested following a disorderly conduct arrest in an Atlanta suburb in late 2017. The situation was exacerbated by a TMZ video that surfaced that included profane exchanges between McDowell and an arresting officer outside a nightclub. McDowell later tweeted an apology for the episode before eventually deleting the apology.

While the video appears to have fallen to the wayside for teams, it’s apparent that some of the weight questions carried over to McDowell’s Dallas visit. One source familiar with the visit told Yahoo Sports the defensive end “still has a lot of work to do” to get himself back to his pre-injury football physique - if that is possible.

Dallas is squarely in the market for hunting bargain pass-rushing pieces this offseason, with defensive end David Irving retiring from the league after his latest drug suspension and defensive end Randy Gregory also under an indefinite substance abuse suspension as well.

That talent drain, and McDowell's likely league-minimum salary if he were to catch on with a team, make him an attractive candidate for visits. But it also says something about the caution with which the Cowboys are proceeding when they let him out the door without a contract as they do a deeper dive into his evaluation. McDowell’s medical assessment is going to be the significant hurdle that takes precedent over everything. And that was reiterated by Cowboys coach Jason Garrett on Tuesday.

“The biggest question with him, is the medical question – making sure we’re comfortable with that,” Garrett said. “As a young player, there’s some uncertainty about him because he hasn’t played but when you go back to the evaluation coming out of school, you say boy, there was a lot to like about him. We’re just in the process of trying to find out more about him.”

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