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.
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.
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.
Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Have a Championship Defense
The Dallas Cowboys are not only breathing in playoff contention, but they're now the favorites to crown themselves as the NFC East champions in 2018. It's pretty impressive how the tables can turn so quickly in the NFL. Dallas played very well against the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday and we learned quite a bit from them as they bounced back to .500. Here's this week's Takeaway Tuesday! Enjoy it as much as you did Brett Maher's game winning field goal a couple of days ago.
Cowboys Have a Championship Defense
Despite taking steps in the right direction, it's impossible to compare this offense to units like the Chiefs, Saints and Rams. However, it's the Cowboys' defense that could be labeled as a championship unit. Facing an offense with such a strong WR core, allowing only one touchdown on the road is impressive.
The Cowboys sacked Matt Ryan three times and were constantly causing pressures. Byron Jones was great once again, allowing only two catches in passes thrown in his direction. And of course, the kid who's been impressing us all, Leighton Vander Esch continued to play out of his mind. He should be the Defensive Rookie of the Year front runner at this point.
The Cowboys' defense is one of the best in the NFL right now, and any offense will have a tough time facing them. It'll be intriguing to see if they can take the next step and stop a high-powered unit like the Saints in a few days.
Offensive Line Woes Are Gone
The offense has improved a lot the last couple of games. Although there is still a lot to work on, they're not struggling as they were in the first half of the season. The offensive line is a huge part of this. With Marc Colombo at OL coach, things have looked very different in Dallas.
Ezekiel Elliott: "I feel great. I feel fast. I feel physical. I feel very comfortable with the running schemes. We just got to keep rolling. That's what's important. We just got to keep rolling.
Ezekiel Elliott has been on a roll the past two weeks and his comments regarding how he feels about the running schemes shouldn't go unnoticed. The offensive line wasn't playing as well as they are right now earlier in the year. Dak Prescott is noticeably more comfortable in the pocket.
It's intriguing to know what will happen at left guard for the Cowboys. With Connor Williams injured, Xavier Su'a-Filo has done a good job filling in for him. Williams has the upside, but should Dallas mess up the mojo this OL has lately?
Dak Prescott: Clutch QB
Dak Prescott continues to be criticized by fans while he keeps proving us why it's not that easy to move on from him. The guy is far from the perfect passer, yet he's been clutch time and time again. This time he did so on the road on an impressive two minute drill.
With 1:46 on the clock, Prescott marched his team down to the Falcons' 24 yard line. He managed to give his team another game winning drive in consecutive weeks. The Cowboys' young quarterback needed a confidence boost and this is perfect for him. He needs to keep it up if the team is going to finish the season as the NFC East champions.
Since entering the NFL, Dak has 12 game winning drives. As frustrating as his play is at times, he will not be easy to replace if the Cowboys decide to move on from this guy down the road. Hopefully, they don't have to. I, for one, believe Dak can be way better with a proper coaching staff. But that's a discussion for another day.
Now, it's time to celebrate the Cowboys' victory and get ready for a short week as the Cowboys play the Washington Redskins on Thursday.
Geoff Swaim Needs Surgery, Should the Cowboys even use a Tight End?
Well, the injury woes continue to mount for the Dallas Cowboys with news coming down this evening that Tight End Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist in the 22-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The injury will need surgery which will mean Swaim will be out a while, if not for the rest of the season.
Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist yesterday and is going to need surgery. Sounds like it might not be season-ending, but he won't be available Thursday #cowboyswire
In previous seasons this wouldn't be much of a blow to the offense, but Geoff Swaim has been the only tight end that the Cowboys have ben able to rely on this season. Dalton Schultz is a rookie, Blake Jarwin's been inconsistent, and Rico Gathers still isn't fully trusted. With the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan's insistence on using a tight end, it seems there's a huge hole at the position heading into Sunday's first place showdown with the Washington Redskins.
But in reality, is there?
For weeks, I've been screaming for this team to use more 10 personnel (one running back and zero tight ends) as its primary passing formation because it gets their best pass catching weapons on the field at the same time. Swaim has been solid and consistent in his first year as a starter, but the rest of the tight end group has disappointed. So why even run a tight end out on the field.
The Dallas Cowboys have options that could replace the tight end in the passing game without actually using a tight end.
First, they could use Noah Brown as the de facto tight end. He's been one of the best blockers on the team in his first two seasons with the team and this is the type of role he's made for. Split him out wide and motion him in tight when you want to run. He can be a threat down the seem and in the red zone with his athleticism. He'd be a mismatch for the linebackers that try to cover him and could open space underneath for Cole Beasley. Brown is also a really good run blocker, so having him on the field doesn't negate what you want to do in the run game.
The other player the Cowboys coaching staff could work into more of the tight end route responsibilities is Allen Hurns. Hurns is a really good route runner, especially in the middle of the field, where the Dallas Cowboys haven't received a lot of production. You can put Hurns in as the fourth wide receiver and split him a couple of yards off the tackle to give him a cleaner release than a TE might get and have him run "Y-option," shallow post routes, or drags. He can be a threat in the passing game if put in situations where he can excel. See below for something Allen Hurns does really well.
In fact, by going four wide receivers with Brown or Hurns on the field, it's possible the opposing defense is forced to run more of dime packages against the Dallas Cowboys 10 personnel.
Why would you want to get teams into dime packages?
Most NFL teams have two pretty good linebackers that they can deploy in nickel situations, but teams rarely have four corners that they can put on the field and feel really good about. So, if you can force teams to remove one of their 11 best players for a backup corner back or safety, you are already winning that matchup.
That matchup would also get you into much more favorable defensive fronts to run against. Even if the opposition put seven or eight in the box, it would be against smaller personnel like corners and safeties instead of a second linebacker.
Running 10 personnel as their base offense moving forward would be unconventional, but with an opportunity to take control of first place in the NFC East on Thanksgiving, now is not the time for conventionality.
Cowboys WR Michael Gallup on Personal Leave; Team Offers Support
Dallas Cowboys rookie receiver Michael Gallup suffered a personal tragedy on Sunday, being informed that his brother committed suicide. He is now on personal leave away from the team, and both Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett have given their full support to Gallup during this difficult time.
According to reports, Gallup was unaware of his brother's death until immediately after the Cowboys' win over the Atlanta Falcons. Michael did not return with the team to Dallas and remained in Atlanta to be with his family.
A formal statement was made by owner Jerry Jones yesterday regarding Gallup:
“Our team and our entire organization are deeply saddened by the news of Michael’s loss. His family is our family. We share in the grief and pain that comes with something so personal and tragic. We offer our support, care and comfort for Michael, and we ask that all of those who have sons and daughters and brothers and sisters join us in keeping Michael and his wonderful family in their thoughts and prayers.”
Throughout his time owning the Cowboys, Jerry has built a reputation for personal loyalty and compassion with his players. His head coach is no different.
As he addressed the media Monday, Jason Garrett did not get into football matters when addressing Gallup's situation:
“This is a very challenging time for him. We’ll take it moment by moment, day by day, and give him all of our love and all of our support.”
While Michael is certainly dealing with something far more important than football, his availability for Thursday's Thanksgiving game against the Washington Redskins does come into question.
The Cowboys have a short week to prepare for Washington, and Gallup has started their last five games. If the rookie has to sit, which seems probable given the timeframe, we can expect more playing time for Allen Hurns and Noah Brown.
Whatever happens happens on that front. Our focus is on Michael Gallup during this sad time, with him and his family in our collective thoughts as Cowboys fans and fellow humans.
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