Cowboys veteran linebacker Sean Lee is dealing with an injury and is unavailable to practice. Man, if we had a nickel for every time we’ve heard that one, we’d have enough money to cover the cost of Lee’s one-year, $4.5 deal for the 2020 season. Okay, so that may be an exaggeration, but you get the gist of it. Lee gets hurt a lot. In fact, here is his injury history over his 10-year NFL career.
That’s a grand total of 40 games over the course of his ten seasons in the league (160 possible games), which means Lee has been out of action for 25% of his entire career. During that time, he has missed at least five games in five different seasons. This equates to a 50/50 chance that Lee will make it through the season without any injuries that keeps him out for more than two games. That’s not good odds.
He carried that same availability ratio at Penn State with two healthy seasons, and two where he got injured. Unfortunately, the two he got injured just so happened to be knee injuries during his final two in college which inevitably hurt his draft stock.
It’s such a misfortune to lose out on a player like Lee as he’s been absolutely superb when he’s healthy and on the field. The Cowboys have mitigated some of the risk by constructing contract extensions that are weighted by how many games (or in some cases % of snaps) he actually plays. It’s a way to keep Lee under contract without the team absorbing all the financial risk.
So, it baffles no one when news broke that Lee suffered some type of undisclosed injury during the strength and conditioning phase of the offseason. Luckily for Dallas, the defense is much more armed to handle Lee’s absence as they have two young stars in Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. While Lee serves as the no. 3 guy, the team also had solid depth after him in the form of Joe Thomas, Justin March, and a couple UDFA youngsters Luke Gifford and Francis Bernard.
Lee is coming off his first full 16-games season last year (in 2016, he was a healthy scratch in Week 17 as the Cowboys had nothing to play for), where he did a fine job filling in for Vander Esch who missed seven games with a neck injury. There were times where he flashed some of that old Lee we were used to seeing, but other times you could see that his age was catching up to him. Despite playing on just 59% of the defense snaps (ninth most), he led the team with 14 missed tackles last year.
The Cowboys will go into the upcoming season taking what they can get from Lee. Even at full health, he’ll play in an abbreviated role for the defense, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It could open the door for these younger guys like Gifford or Bernard to get a few meaningful snaps at some point in the season. And there isn’t a better player/coach figure than Lee to help bring these young guys along. Sean Lee lives to learn, and his understanding of the position would be such a great thing to transfer to his teammates.
One of my favorite scenes from the All or Nothing series: Sean Lee getting right back in the LB room after the season ended pic.twitter.com/tfOrOxwyG0— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) March 9, 2019
For now, Lee’s injury isn’t something to worry about. If history has taught us anything, it’s okay to temper our expectations, but this could be the one time that him being sidelined isn’t so detrimental.