Ever since the Dallas Cowboys drafted the Penn State linebacker star, Sean Lee wasted no time making his presence felt on this football team. Despite entering the league undersized and average athletically, Lee demonstrated superb diagnostic skills and sure tackling skills which has enabled him to be one of the better linebackers in the league. There’s no doubt that his outstanding instincts and fundamental precision has allowed him to be the anchor of this Cowboys defense for many years.
But things are different these days. With the dynamic duo of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch now in charge of running the show at linebacker, Lee has taken a backseat. Both Smith and LVE recorded over 120 tackles in 2018, whereas Lee only had 30, the lowest total of his career for any season he’s played in. A hamstring injury/re-injury kept him out of seven games that year.
So, it wasn’t all that surprising that the Cowboys couldn’t justify absorbing his $7 million base salary last season, and worked out a restructured deal with incentives that paid him a total of $4.5 million instead. That turned out to be a wise investment as Lee services were put to good use because Vander Esch’s season was cut short due to a neck injury that caused him to miss nine games last year. The veteran linebacker played in all 16 games for the first time in his career. Not only did he play, but he played well. Lee even finished with a 17-tackle performance late in the season, one tackle shy of his career high.
Lee’s production last year was a sight for sore eyes as his 86 tackle performance reminded us of his good old days.
And when you factor in his adjusted cost, the Cowboys got a good deal. Here is a breakdown of the distribution of his cost compared to his production throughout his career.
It’s hard to justify shelling out any significant cap resources for a backup player when Smith and Vander Esch should be handling a majority of the snaps. But Lee’s price tag shouldn’t be all that expensive considering his inability to stay on the field. Here is Lee’s recent medical history:
Getting Lee back at a good price would really help the depth of this linebacker unit. While the team fully expects to get Vander Esch back after successful neck surgery following the 2019 season, he suffers from spinal stenosis. The team will take extra precautions with special equipment, but there’s always going to be that worry that one bad hit takes him out again and possibly puts his playing days in jeopardy.
The Cowboys need to be prepared in case depth at linebacker is needed; and it usually is. The linebacker position is one of the more brutal positions in the NFL, and the defense will need to have a reliable group available. With players like Joe Thomas, Justin March, and even newcomer Malcolm Smith all free agents, Dallas is going to need players to round out their depth chart. Getting Lee signed will help alleviate these worries.
Bringing back Lee is not without risks, but these risks are lessened with a lower price. It also doesn’t hurt that the team has done a great job managing his work load with his practice routines and extra days off. Playing behind the main starters will also aid in helping preserve his health.
If the team can put together another incentive-laced deal that puts more money in his pocket if the team calls upon him to log additional snaps, it could provide the defense with a little bit of an insurance policy.