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Is 2018 LB Sean Lee’s Last Season with Cowboys?

Jess Haynie

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Sean Lee

After an offseason with major roster changes and a significant youth movement, one can't help but look at Linebacker Sean Lee as one of the last men standing for the older veterans. While he's certainly sticking around this year, could 2018 be Lee's last season with the Dallas Cowboys?

With Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, and Orlando Scandrick all departing over the last two months, a wave of change has hit the 2018 Dallas Cowboys. As we saw with Bryant and Scandrick, the Cowboys are willing to cut a veteran leader if the cap savings and other circumstances make it logical.

Sean Lee will be one of just three players 30 or older this season. The other two are specialists, Kicker Dan Bailey and Long Snapper L.P. Laoduceur. Those players tend to last longer than their offensive and defensive teammates.

That makes Lee the old man on campus. And as you would imagine, he carries a significant salary cap hit given his tenure and performance.

Sean's contract runs through 2019. He is set to count a little over $10 million against next season's cap. The Cowboys can save $7 million if he's released.

Head, Shoulders, Knees, And Toes: Injuries Make Sean Lee Untrustworthy?

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

A couple of months ago, I discussed why the Cowboys may not want to restructure Lee's contract to create cap space. Not only is Sean getting older, but his injury issues were back last season with five missed games.

Dallas didn't restructure, leaving themselves the leverage to handle Lee's contract next season in whatever way is best for the organization.

A year ago, I floated the idea that Dez Bryant's wasn't restructured for the same reason. Many scoffed at the notion that Bryant could be released, but we saw what happened.

From a purely financial standpoint, cutting Lee would be even easier than Dez. He would create $7 million in cap space with only a $3 million dead money penalty, whereas as Bryant's release was $8 million saved but another $8 million in dead money.

Unlike Bryant, though, Sean Lee is still performing as one of the top players at his position. He's still justifying his salary, provided his health allows him to stay on the field.

After missing all of 2014 with a knee injury, Sean returned with consistency over the next two years. He's been one the elite linebackers in the NFL, but last year was a setback.

A few weeks ago, Dallas spent their first-round pick on Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. While there was a present need for more LB talent, it also speaks to the Cowboys preparing for a future without Sean Lee.

Is 2018 LB Sean Lee's Last Season with Cowboys?

Dallas Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch

Ideally, Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith will be the team's key LB duo for years to come. While Jaylon may move to the SAM role in 2018, his ball skills are suited for the WILL role that Sean Lee plays now.

In the modern era, NFL teams often have just two linebackers on the field with nickel formations. Those will likely be Lee and Smith for most of 2018, but Vander Esch should come into the rotations at times.

If the young guys have strong seasons, it will give the Cowboys even more freedom to consider letting Sean Lee go next year. But before he can become a cap casualty, Lee will get a chance to show whether or not he's actually a liability.

It's entirely possible, if not probable, that Lee will still be the best LB on the team this season and one of the best in the league. That would give him security that Dez Bryant and Orlando Scandrick didn't have this offseason.

If Dallas want to stick with Sean Lee in 2019, they should be able to find the cap space to do it. They will have $24 million in dead money coming off the books, mostly from Tony Romo and Dez Bryant's contracts but a few others as well.

So really, Lee's future comes down to what he does on the field this season. If he's still Sean Lee, All-Pro linebacker, then he should still be a Cowboy going forward. But if age or injuries bring him down, it could easily be his last ride in Dallas.

Not that Sean needed extra motivation. One of his most endearing qualities is how he treats every game and every play like the Super Bowl is in the line.

But Lee will undoubtedly feel the pressure. He'll look around at a changed locker room, the elder statesman, and know what it could mean for his future.

Nobody can predict that future, but like with Dez Bryant last year, some of the warning signs are showing. As such, 2018 could be Sean Lee's last season as a Dallas Cowboy.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. GoNavyBeatArmy

    May 15, 2018 at 11:06 am

    Dallas already has $66mil cap space available next season, not counting what they roll over from this season. They have no need to ‘create cap space’. I seriously doubt Lee will be cut next year.

  2. Antón Calo

    May 15, 2018 at 11:43 am

    Sean lee is the best LB mind in the entire nfl. If you see the all or nothing serie about dallas cowboys you realize he’s not just a former cowboys LB, he must be in the franchize for years to come. If he cant play anymore jones family must keep him as a LB coach or someplace else on the staff team, as they have done with QB last year (this year tony romo’s Backup QB will be Qb coach)

  3. Travis Diggs

    May 15, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    Sean lee ain’t going nowhere but then again i didn’t think Dez was going anywhere so you never know. When he gets hurt this year we’ll see how this new look group looks without him, that will be the key in deciding his future with the team

  4. elindio42

    May 15, 2018 at 12:31 pm

    Lee is in a completely different situation than Bryant or Scandrick. He can still play!

    I was not surprised that Dez was cut this year. He was declining in production and was becoming a large distraction and a diva.

  5. Chuck Wright

    May 15, 2018 at 3:29 pm

    If not this year then next will be his last most likely.

    Oddly enough after going WR and LB in 2018, Dallas’ 2019 draft needs to figure on LB and WR as two need spots again. Next year I see biggest needs S, LB, WR, 1 Tech (not that the FO cares) and maybe TE

    • Antón Calo

      May 16, 2018 at 9:30 am

      making next year Dallas’ 2019 draft needs with out playing this year is imposible… if the year is bad, you may have to look for another QB or new bad positions, if the year is good and the rookies made a good job, LB might not be a need if you play with only two (Jaylon an Van der each) as they did last season with a nickel formation.
      in addition, dallas have near 24k in death cap this year (tony romo, bryant, etc.), and next year none (by now).
      with that money, you can extend irving, lawrence, zack martin (the only started free agent) and may be pick up earl thomas as a free agent. Surely, new needs will appear during the season (maybe new OT if tyron smith’s injury problems continue?)

  6. Hector Espindola

    May 15, 2018 at 10:01 pm

    NO shortcuts there, Dallas will honor Lee’s contract till it’s end, because his game hasn’t decreased and cap hell is behind. No way he leaves until FO is sure that Jaylon and LVE are their natural heirs, which, in my opinion, would not happen in the next couple of seasons. After that, and as the outstanding player and captain Lee has been, FO will offer him a last friendly season backup contract if Lee’s body is up to the task or a coaching job as retirement at 34 years old. If Jaylon and LVE want to be the best versions of themselves, they have to approach the game as Lee does. Lee is the last standard.

  7. EverybodyTalks

    May 16, 2018 at 7:54 pm

    Lee has always had a contract that has been team friendly. Not to high, not to low…just right. They have even restructured on his contract a few times. I think he stays to play, but more importantly, to further tutor LV55. That tutoring also applies to Jaylon, especially since he will be the eventual successor on the weak side.
    Then in 2020, Lee becomes the defensive coordinator and Kris Richard becomes our new head coach.
    Garrett moves on to coach elsewhere, with his back-to-back SB rings from 2018 & 2019.

  8. Michael White

    May 25, 2018 at 4:28 pm

    I remember reading the article about Dez and told my friends and bro that if Dez didn’t have a monstrous year he would be cut. And it happened. Sean Lee is different..he is productive and he isn’t a problem child. He is actually beneficial to the locker room..i think there will give him the Jason Whitten treatment..that is if he is healthy and productive…That being said I still look for us to draft another LB next year maybe in 2nd or 3rd round

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DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class

Kevin Brady

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Breaking Down DeMarcus Lawrence's League High 5.5 Sacks Through Week 4

Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys 2019 free agent class. Dallas has a ton of cap space moving forward, but they are going to "have" to pay many of the key players on their roster over the next two offseasons in order to keep their young core together.

Of course, when you're drafting, that's the goal. To draft so well that when your own players become free agents, you go ahead and pay them to keep them around, rather than overpay on the free agent market for external players.

One of the major pieces the Cowboys will have to retain this offseason is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. And while Cowboys Nation often thinks of Lawrence as underrated around the league, the NFL has caught onto his importance as he enters free agency this Spring.

ESPN.com ranked their top 10 free agents for 2019, with DeMarcus Lawrence clocking in at number one, over elite players like Jadeveon Clowney and Le'Veon Bell.

ig: josinaanderson on Twitter

ESPN's top 10 free agents for 2019 and what Le'Veon Bell should be looking to command based on previous measures. https://t.co/aJ7H1n001t

DeMarcus Lawrence is going to command big time money, likely even Khalil Mack-type money. But the fact of the matter is that he has earned it. Lawrence has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys defensive line the last two seasons, and the most consistent edge player on the team as well.

Not only has he been an effective pass rusher, but DeMarcus Lawrence also plays with a relentless motor against the run that can sometimes be rare to find in those premier pass rushers. He really is a jack of all trades at defensive end, and should be priority number one for the Cowboys this offseason.

Thankfully, I can't imagine the Cowboys not retaining DeMarcus Lawrence and extending him in the coming months.



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When it Mattered Most, Cowboys Offensive Line Protected Dak Prescott

John Williams

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All-22 Notes: Connor Williams Stands Out in Wild Card Win

Throughout the 2018 NFL season, one of the major story lines surrounding the Dallas Cowboys was how frequently Dak Prescott was taking sacks. It's an area that the Cowboys will have to look at in the offseason to better protect their franchise quarterback moving forward. In the playoffs, however, Dak Prescott and the offensive line were much better at keeping their prized possession upright than they were in the regular season.

In the regular season, Dak Prescott was sacked 56 times for an average of 3.5 times a game. There was only one game where he wasn't sacked at all, way back in week two against the New York Giants. Four times this season, the Cowboys' quarterback was sacked five or more times. The New Orleans Saints got him for a season high seven times.

According to Pro Football Focus, Dak was "kept clean" -- not pressured -- on 63% of his drop backs during the regular season, which ranked 25th in the NFL. When kept clean, Prescott completed 74.1% of his passes, which was good for 5th in the NFL during the regular season. He was under pressure 37% of the time, which was the sixth highest rate in the NFL and his completion percentage dropped to 52.6%, still good for 10th in the NFL. It was better than Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Baker Mayfield.

During the playoffs, Prescott's "kept clean" percentage rose from 63% to 68% and he was only sacked once in each game. The one sack against the Los Angeles Rams probably shouldn't have been called a sack as the referee blew the whistle because Prescott was "in the grasp"...

...of his offensive lineman.

During the playoffs, the Cowboys offensive line kept the pressure off of Prescott at a better rate, allowing him to be pressured on only 31.9% of his drop backs. Meaning he was kept clean at an improved rate from the regular season at 68.1% of his drop backs. This while playing against two teams that are really good at rushing the passer. The Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks both finished in the top half of the league in sacks this season and feature players like Aaron Donald, Jarran Reed, and Frank Clark who all had double-digit sacks.

As we know, pressure rates and sacks aren't all completely on the offensive line. The quarterback, wide receivers, and the play calling all factor in, but the Cowboys are trending in the right direction with their pass protection. A full offseason for Connor Williams in the Dallas Cowboys strength and conditioning program, better health for Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and -- fingers crossed -- Travis Frederick, should all help the offensive line play at a higher level heading into the 2019 season.

It can't be overstated how important it will be to get Travis Frederick back into the fold this season. Joe Looney was good, and that might be overstating it a bit. He was not noticeable on most plays during the season, but getting your All-Pro center back will tremendously help the offense in every facet of the game. Frederick's one of the smarter players in the NFL, who helps everyone on the offense to see the blitzes and calls out the protections. Both his mental and physical ability will be a welcomed site when the Cowboys begin practicing in the offseason.

With another year of growth for the quarterback and for the young pieces along the offensive line, and with a full offseason for Dak Prescott to grow with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Blake Jarwin, the Cowboys should be better next season at keeping the quarterback clean.



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5 Studs and Duds From the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Season

Brian Martin

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5 Studs and Duds From the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Season 2

I know we are all still little disappointed with the way the Dallas Cowboys 2018 season ended, but if we are completely honest with ourselves it ended a lot better than we initially thought it would. With the season officially over, it's time to start the evaluation process to see what went wrong and what right this past year.

I don't know about you, but I started the evaluation process a lot earlier this year than I have in years past. That is why today I want to share with you five of the Dallas Cowboys players who I believe had a fantastic 2018 season and five that unfortunately didn't quite live up to expectations.

Before we get started, I want to let you know that I tried to stray from pointing out the obvious, especially in the stud category. Instead I went with players who kind of came out of nowhere to have a really good season. I thought that would make it a little more enjoyable instead of pointing out the obvious. I hope you enjoy.

✭ Dallas Cowboys 2018 Studs ✭

Byron Jones

Dallas Cowboys CB Byron Jones

CB, Byron Jones

Byron Jones completely turned around his career this season with the Dallas Cowboys after being moved from safety to cornerback, his more natural position. Many had him pegged as a first-round bust, but he definitely quieted his critics by making his first Pro Bowl and becoming a Second-team All-Pro. I would say that qualifies as stud status.

The Predator and Wolf Hunter

You can't really mention one and leave out the other, which is why you're getting a two-for-one special here with Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. This dynamic duo arguably played like the best LBs in the league, although it's Vander Esch who has received the majority of the attention and got the Pro Bowl not as a replacement. Both definitely had Pro Bowl caliber seasons and that alone speaks volumes to how they played in 2018.

C, Joe Looney

No one could've possibly predicted the kind of season Dallas Cowboys backup Guard/Center Joe Looney would have in 2018 after replacing Travis Frederick in the starting lineup. He became somewhat of an afterthought this past season, which is pretty impressive in itself considering he was replacing one of the best centers in the league. What's even more impressive is the fact he played every single snap on offense. No other Cowboys player accomplished that feat on either side of the ball.

DE, Randy Gregory

You may disagree with me here, but the way Randy Gregory played in the second half of the 2018 season earned him stud status in my opinion. If he would've played that way for the entire year he would've joined DeMarcus Lawrence with double digit quarterback sacks. His ability to turn his speed into power gave opposing left tackles fits. He ended up being among the best at pressuring the QB in the latter part of the season.

DT, Antwaun Woods

Antwaun Woods was viewed as nothing more than a camp body when the Dallas Cowboys picked him up in the offseason after being released by the Tennessee Titans, but it's not always where you start it's where you finish. He went on to earn the starting gig at the 1-tech or nose tackle this past season and was largely responsible for the success Dallas had at shutting down opposing offenses rushing attacks. Unfortunately, as well as he played all season it will probably be forgotten after the way the LA Rams completely dominated Woods and the rest of the Cowboys DL in the playoffs.

✭ Dallas Cowboys 2018 Duds ✭

Sean Lee

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

LB, Sean Lee

The Dallas Cowboys wisely drafted Leighton Vander Esch as insurance if Sean Lee couldn't remain healthy in 2018, and thank the heavens they did. Vander Esch was supposed to be Lee's backup this season, but it ended up being the other way around after #50 once again missed quite a bit of the year with injuries. It looks like the torch has already been passed, making Sean Lee's future in Dallas a mystery moving forward.

DT, David Irving

Remember last offseason when the Dallas Cowboys decided to place just a second-round tender on David Irving and we were worried some other team would snatch him up? Yeah, well it looks as if the Cowboys are the ones who paid too much to keep him around because did basically nothing in 2018 despite all the high expectations we all had for him. After he sustained a high ankle sprain he pretty much went M.I.A. and no one really knows what the heck is going on or what his future holds.

WR, Allen Hurns

The Dallas Cowboys signed Allen Hurns this past offseason to help replace some of the lost production in the passing game after they decided to release Dez Bryant. Unfortunately, he never found his footing in Dallas and finished the year with an unimpressive stat line of 20 receptions for 295 receiving yards and two touchdowns. To add insult to injury (pun intended), his gruesome leg injury might be the only thing we remember about his 2018 season.

S, Jeff Heath

I'm actually a fan of Jeff Heath's, but he didn't particularly play very well this season. He ended up grading out as one of the worst tackling safeties in the NFL this past season. I don't know if it was some kind of fluke or what, but the Dallas Cowboys will surely be looking to upgrade the safety position this offseason either through free agency or the draft, perhaps both. Regardless, his days in the starting lineup may be all but over.

RB/WR, Tavon Austin

There were a lot of high expectations for Tavon Austin when the Dallas Cowboys added him via trade with the Los Angeles Rams. Austin was supposed to provide a different dynamic to the Cowboys offense and help improve their return game as well. Unfortunately a groin injury pretty much wiped out the majority of his season, but even when he was on the field he wasn't as impactful as we'd all hoped. He did show a few flashes of his talent, but for me it wasn't enough.



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