It wasn’t too long ago that many thought the Dallas Cowboys had the best trio of linebackers in the NFL with Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee. However, what was once a strength turned into a weakness in 2020. Smith took a step back even from his 2019 regression and Vander Esch missed six games due to collarbone and ankle injuries.
For the elder statesman of the unit, Lee, it was the same story but just a different book. He missed the first seven games after having sports hernia surgery just before the season opener. The rumblings of retirement have surfaced since the Cowboys 2020 campaign ended against the New York Giants, but according to Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News, he’s still mulling over his playing future.
Hearing Sean Lee still working through continuing playing or retiring. LP Ladouceur, 16-year vet entering free agency, plans on returning in 2021 and Maurice Canady (remember him? he opted out last year) is staying in shape. No word if he plans on playing in 2021.
— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) February 23, 2021
Lee played in 16 games for the first time in his career in 2019 and posted nearly 90 tackles as the Cowboy’s third linebacker, and did a nice job filling in for Vander Esch who was dealing with a neck issue. However, it was sandwiched between the two worst seasons of his career in terms of production.
In 2017, Lee played in the second-fewest games of his career (7) and registered only 30 tackles. One could argue his 2020 campaign was even worse as he tallied a career-low 20 tackles in nine games.
The last three seasons have been a far cry from the previous three which was the best stretch of Lee’s career. From 2015 to 2017, Lee had over 100 tackles each season which included two Pro Bowl selections (2015, 2016) and an All-Pro nod (2016).
Every player comes to a crossroads in his career. For Lee, after over a decade in the league which has been filled with injuries and now a decline in play, life after football starts to come to the forefront. Lee said he’d take some time to decide if he’ll play in 2021 in a postgame interview after the Cowboys Week 17 loss to the Giants.
“I love this team. I love this organization. I love playing the game,” Lee said, via the team’s website. “As you get older, it is what it is. You get older and you question things. I still think I have a lot to give, but at the same point, you acknowledge as you get older, physically, things change. I’ll take time, I’ll talk to the family and really think it through. I’ve been so lucky to be part of this. I love all my teammates. To be able to play has been a complete dream. And to give it up is not something that’s easy. You want to win a Super Bowl. You love playing, you love practicing day in and day out. It’s a harder decision than I thought it would be. So we’ll see. We’ll see what happens, and I’ll take some time. But I’ve been so, so lucky and so blessed.”
This has to be a difficult time for Lee. And one hand, his love for the game is still strong, but his body continues to fail him. A decision on his playing future may not come until after the NFL draft in April, and whether or not the Cowboys add a young piece at the position. Nonetheless, the end of Lee’s time in Dallas is drawing closer, but it’s just a matter of if he thinks there’s still enough tread on the tires for one more race.