For many seasons, Sean Lee was the cornerstone of the Dallas Cowboys defense. When Lee was off the field, often due to injury, Dallas could not hold up on the defensive side of the ball. From 2013-2017, Lee was one of the best linebackers in all of football.
Despite missing an entire season in 2014 with a torn ACL, the Penn State product showed the resilience he always has, bouncing back to make two straight Pro Bowls and earn an All-Pro selection in 2016. Lee was well on his way to another Pro Bowl in 2017, but suffered a hamstring injury that caused him to miss six games during the course of the season.
With Lee missing from action once again, Dallas knew they needed to do something to give themselves a little insurance at the linebacker spot. They ended up achieving that insurance in a big way, drafting Leighton Vander Esch in the 2018 NFL Draft. When Lee got hurt again during that season, Vander Esch took over his role, and the rest is history.
Despite his solid production in 2019, many seemed to believe there was a good chance Lee’s time in Dallas was done. The Cowboys however, did not feel this way, re-signing Lee to a one-year, $4.5 million-dollar deal, back in March.
With Lee, and basically the whole Cowboys linebacking corps, back in the fold for one more season, there are questions about what Lee’s role will look like in 2020. To get a better idea of what we may see from the former Pro Bowler, let’s dive deeper into his play from 2019.
For the first time in his career, Lee appeared in all 16 games of a season in 2019. He recorded 86 total tackles, 55 solo tackles, four tackles for loss, and four passes defended. Lee had to step into a much bigger role than anticipated because of the Vander Esch injury, and overall he played pretty well.
Check out #Cowboys highlight:SEAN LEE with the TFL on Barkley for 7 yards #DALvsNYG— CowboysTalkLine (@CowboysTalkLine) April 5, 2020
Get more info at https://t.co/Z3Z6SpheKp #CowboysNation #DallasCowboys #NFL #NFLHighlights #SportsTalkLine pic.twitter.com/I6puBF15jc
According to Pro Football Focus, Lee received an overall defensive grade of 61.5 on the season, which was actually a few points higher than the 58.2 grade Vander Esch received. Lee did some of his best work in the last five games of the season, earning excellent overall ratings against the Patriots, Bills, and Rams.
Sean Lee showed in the Cowboys’ Week 15 win over the Rams that there was still gas left in the tank pic.twitter.com/kg8JxRh99s— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) March 17, 2020
Last season, Lee also contributed on special teams more than he had ever in his career. He played on 81 total special teams stats, including 14 punt return snaps, the highest total of his career.
The soon-to-be 34-year-old, nicknamed “The General”, is not the same player we saw back in 2015-2016, but Lee still can be a productive linebacker in this league. When examining what role he will play on the Dallas defense in 2020, you have to ask yourself two big questions. One, is Leighton Vander Esch really healthy enough to hold up during an entire 16 game season? Two, what will new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan do with Jaylon Smith. What position will he play next season?
The answers to these questions are still unknown, but the biggest thing that Lee will provide the Cowboys with at this point and time is insurance. If Vander Esch continues to struggle to stay on the field, Lee can slide in and fill his role. If Dallas decides to use Smith in a different way and needs Lee to play more middle linebacker, he can do this as well.
Basically how much we see Lee on the field in 2020 will come down to how available the other Cowboys linebackers are, and how they are used in Nolan’s defensive scheme. No matter how he is tasked to contribute, Lee will provide a versatile presence and leadership to a new-look defensive scheme coming this coming season. Whatever his role may be, The General will be ready to step into action.