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Sean Lee: Time for the General to Surrender

John Williams

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REPORT: Cowboys LB Sean Lee to Miss Games with Hamstring Injury

“Football is a meritocracy,” said Tony Romo about this time two years ago. He’d just been told that Dak Prescott would remain the Dallas Cowboys quarterback, though Romo was deemed healthy enough to return to action. Well, the Cowboys face a similar situation with another rookie playing excellent football with a veteran on the sideline. The rookie is Leighton Vander Esch and the veteran is Sean Lee.

When Romo stepped aside he issued the words that have become synonymous with who Tony Romo is, “Football is a meritocracy.” As sad as it is when it comes to the end of a player’s career, the time has come for General Lee to wave that white flag as a full-time player in the NFL.

Lee has been one of the best linebackers in the game during his tenure with the Dallas Cowboys, but has always been limited by his body’s inability to stay healthy. In most seasons, the Cowboys haven’t had an adequate replacement for Lee on the depth chart and that led to disastrous outcomes like the Green Bay and Los Angeles games in 2017.  Most years, we’d sit around for weeks telling ourselves, “if the Cowboys can hang in there until Sean Lee gets back, then they’ll be alright.” 

That all seems to be over now. The Dallas Cowboys finally have a player on the depth chart who can adequately, and perhaps more than adequately, replace Sean Lee’s production at the weak side linebacker position in Vander Esch. You don’t have to be a film grinder to see that the 19th overall pick has become a difference maker for the Cowboys and someone you can’t take off the field. He’s the future, but he’s also proving to be the now at WILL for the Dallas Cowboys and the coaching staff as well as Sean Lee need to recognize that. 

Vander Esch has two interceptions in the last two games, won defensive player of the week for his play against the Philadelphia Eagles. Per Pro Football Focus, Vander Esch is second in the NFL among linebackers in tackles and fourth in the NFL in stops. 

He’s been one of the best players on the team this season and shouldn’t come off the field, even for an All-Pro like Sean Lee.  

So the coaches have a difficult decision to make, but with the Dak Prescott-Tony Romo decision as a template, it’s not really a difficult decision. 

It’s time for Sean Lee to take a step back. He’s a leader on the defense whether he’s on the field or on the sideline. He’s a huge asset to the linebacker room in-game preparation, and he can still make plays for you when asked to do so. Lee, however, doesn’t need to see a full-time compliment of snaps when he returns unless we see a drop off in play for Leighton Vander Esch. Vander Esch’s play and Lee’s body are telling us that the time is now to make the transition to life on defense beyond Sean Lee.

Lee is still an important player to have around and he’ll get some snaps, but the WILL linebacker spot needs to be Leighton Vander Esch’s moving forward. 

Because, after all, “football is a meritocracy.” 



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

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24 Comments
  • Barry Graham

    So, what’s the rush? Sean Lee is a smart guy. He’ll know when it’s time for him to transition. No harm having two great linebackers in a rotation.

    • John Williams

      Totally agree. Sean is a great player to have back up the WILL and the MIKE. I’m not getting rid of him, just don’t want him taking snaps from LVE. Much like with Gallup after the Cooper trade, I didn’t want to see Gallup start to take a step back.

      • DevilDog58

        I think with the Cooper trade the opposite will happen. Being mentored by a true #1 will give us 2 great WR on the outside and let Beasley play the slot where he will shine.

        • John Williams

          Exactly. Gallup continuing to run as a starter is excellent. I was just worried he would take a back seat after the fact.

  • Guy Fawkes

    Or move Vander esch over to Damien Wilson’s spot and run with the 3 best lb’s in the game . Sean Lee move over you’re crazy . Perhaps you should cover another team.

    • John Williams

      LVE doesn’t have the ability to set the edge at the point of attack the way Damien Wilson can. Your SAM has to be able to take on and shed blocks from guards and tackles. You want your WILL to be able to run free because the 1-tech defensive tackle is holding up the guard and center allowing the WILL to flow with the play.

      • DevilDog58

        Those are good points, Bro. Maybe keeping Lee fresh is the best idea. One thing is for sure, I wouldn’t mind seeing him coach our LBers when he retires. He is such a student of the game I think he’d be an outstanding coach.

        • John Williams

          Exactly. Keep Lee at like 10-20 snaps a game and you’ll get a better fresher Lee.

      • Ethan Chazin

        Well said, John. A voice of reason. Plus given the state of the game and pounding LBs take, having an All-Pro to leverage as a “back up” is a great luxury. Also seems like Lee would NOT want to go to another team to prolong an injury-filled career?

        • John Williams

          Absolutely. Lee can still play about 20% of the snaps as a backup MIKE and WILL LB and be potentially more effecitve of a player with less injury risk.

  • DevilDog58

    I also think there’s no rush in limiting Lee’s snaps on the field. I know he’s played two positions and I think he could play all three. I say move him to Sam LB and we’ll have Vander Esch, Smith and Lee on the field as our LBing corps. Who knows? Maybe Sean can stay healthy and we’d have one of the best if not the best LB corps in the League. If we get all our DL healthy, I would absolutely love to have them with DLaw, Irving, Collins, Woods & Gregory in front of them and Awuzie, Heath, Woods or Frazier & Jones behind them. The S spot I’m not sure about because it’s the one position we don’t have an impact player at on D. I hope we can pick one up in the off season (maybe Earl?). Man, what a D we could have next year. Of course this year’s looking pretty good too!

    • John Williams

      Neither Lee or LVE would be nearly as effective at SAM because your SAM is for all intents and purposes like the 1T defensive tackle just on the EDGE. The SAM’s responsibility is to take on blockers and set the EDGE so that the MIKE and WILL can flow freely. I love Sean Lee. I just think we are seeing LVE playing at a really high level.

      I like the idea of having Lee as a backup to Smith and LVE and you can still run Lee out there in nickel as well. Limit his snaps and make him more effective.

      • DevilDog58

        Really, what I was thinking was for next year. LVE @ MLB, Lee @ WLB & Jaylon @ SLB. Of course for it to work Lee would have to stay healthy all year, a feat he has never accomplished. I do think with his size & speed LVE would be great at MLB. Smith has the brains and speed to play anywhere. Whose the other LB? Is it Damien Wilson? I don’t think I have ever heard his name called during a game. But Lee is getting older so it’s better to rotate him. Just wish they would/could rotate him on the OTHER side.

      • DevilDog58

        What worries me is that I read Jerry’s going to give Lee back the starting job. I agree with you on limiting his snaps and letting LVE play the majority of the downs. That kid is exploding and I think taking him out of the games too much would be a huge mistake.

  • David Anthony

    John, truer words have never been spoken… Sean Lee should seriously consider making the move to coaching. He has the mind for it and his hamstrings won’t be an issue. This is no knock against Lee, I have nothing but respect for the guy. He has proven his skill in an unquestionable fashion. But facts are facts; he has never been able to stay on the field.

    However, don’t expect logic to suddenly become a strong suit in Dallas. The Cowboys under J.J.’s tenure have routinely exhibited characteristics that run counter to sound reasoning.

    His recent public commitment to Dak and Garret serve as good examples. We win a game or two and suddenly Dak’s missed reads and inconsistent throws don’t matter? I’m not ready to throw Dak to the curb but he needs to actually demonstrate he’s our best option at the position. Many analysts who should know don’t see it.

    Another case in point, Jason G has failed to deliver the goods for the better part of a decade yet J.J. says he’s not playing for his job.

    It’s one of those things that make you go hmmmmmmmmm.

    • John Williams

      Appreciate the positive feedback. It’s a difficult and touchy subject for some.

      I love Lee and want to keep him around as long as he’s willing. I just would prefer him to take on a reserve role and allow the young dynamic duo take the lead at LB.

    • DevilDog58

      Thanks for agreeing with my suggestion of coaching for Lee. I hope he chooses that path instead of the booth.

      • John Williams

        I think that’s the future for him. He’s got an excellent football mind and is already paying dividends as a mentor for the young linebackers. He can still have an on-field impact, but I think it’s time to let Smith and LVE be the now as well as the future.

        • DevilDog58

          Agreed. Now if we could just find a TE Coach……..

  • Steve

    I’ve been looking at this very situation for a few weeks now and it seems when I really focused on it, LVE has blew up! He’s a stud and is the present and future LB of America’s Team along with Smith and Wilson and Lee! I believe Lee has maybe 1 more yr in him and I personally would love to see him and our boyz win a Championship before he retires! If not then he should see that his time has come and maybe be our LB’S coach because he is very intelligent and knows the game well and would be a valuable asset to one of the youngest teams in the NFL! With his contract off the books after this yr or next then Big D will be in awesome shape cap wise! Enough to sign our young studs and then get 1 or 2 of the market! We NEED Earl Thomas badly to control our young secondary and be that playmaker we desperately need because we have an A- Defensive line A+ Linebackers and B- Corners and IMO a D at safety! EARL could put our D on the map as one of the top 5 in the NFL and the youngest to boot!

    • John Williams

      I’m all about chasing Earl Thomas in the offseason to pair with Xavier Woods at safety and do think that would help the defense go from very very good to elite.

  • Travis Diggs

    Hopefully they dont let him leave to be a analyst like they did with Romo. Romo should be our qb coach and oc, nobody knows the offense like him. With that being said nobody knows the defense better than Sean Lee, he could easily step in and work alongside Benny Bloom which he’s probably already doing

    • John Williams

      Right. Lee is already a leader in the LB room and is probably coaching those guys up. I’d keep him on the roster as a backup WILL and MIKE as long as he’s willing to do so so he can collect that paycheck and then when he’s ready have a coaching office ready for him to walk into.

  • EverybodyTalks

    If we are going to be in the playoffs and make this run towards it, then Sean, Jaylon, Damien and LVE all need to be rotated to stay fresh and reduce the chance of injury for each of them.
    They are all pluses to our LB corp and just read that Joe Thomas is back. Very hopeful he is 100% because Joe also brings a lot of intensity to the Wolf Pack.

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Maliek Collins Playing Excellent for Cowboys Defense

John Williams

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Maliek Collins

For the Dallas Cowboys on the interior, a lot of the news consistently surround the availability of Defensive Tackle David Irving, but Maliek Collins is playing excellent right now. While I'm willing to be very patient with Irving because of the elite talent he brings, Maliek Collins should continue to start for the Dallas Cowboys at 3-technique defensive tackle.

Collins has been a player that the Cowboys have bounced between the nose tackle and the 3T position with the hopes of getting their best players on the field, and because of the lack of a consistent presence at the 1-technique or nose tackle position. Well, with Antwaun Woods taking control at the 1T, Collins has been able to play at the position where he's at his best. The 3-tech.

He hasn't put huge numbers in the sack column this season, but that doesn't mean he's been absent from being the disruptive player he's been through his first two and a half seasons.

During the Dallas Cowboys five game winning streak, Maliek Collins has led the Dallas Cowboys defensive tackles in total pressures with 13, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF combines sacks, quarterback hits, and hurries into their "pressures." Collins hasn't recorded a sack during the winning streak, but he has four quarterback hits and nine hurries. He's tied with Tyrone Crawford for third in total pressures behind DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory over the last five weeks.

Over the last five weeks, Collins leads the defensive tackles in solo tackles with five and is tied with Crawford and Antwaun Woods with three run stops on defense, according to Pro Football Focus. Collins has also has two tackles for loss in the last five games and recovered Tyrone Crawford's force fumble on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Collins had six sacks in his rookie season when he played primarily as the 3T, which allowed him to see more one-on-one blocks against opposing interior offensive linemen. Especially with the way the rest of the defensive line is playing.

With the Cowboys on the road to face the Indianapolis Colts this week, Collins is going to have a tough matchup with a very good Colts offensive line, in particular, rookie Quentin Nelson. Collins ability to get pressure on Andrew Luck on the interior is a huge key for the Dallas Cowboys this week. We know that Gregory and Lawrence will get their pressures, but if Andrew Luck is able to step up into a clean pocket, it will make for a much more challenging game for the Cowboys secondary.

Collins has proved to be up to any task over the last five weeks and if he's able to keep playing at such a high level, he'll make the Cowboys coaching staff, and the rest of Cowboys Nation forget about using other defensive tackles. For the Cowboys to make a deep push in the playoffs, they'll need Collins to be a big time player for them moving forward.



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Amari Cooper Wins 2nd NFC Offensive Player of the Week Award of 2018

Jess Haynie

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Amari Cooper

For the second time in just three weeks, Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper has been named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

Cooper scored three touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime, to lead the Cowboys to victory last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. He has 10 catches for 217 yards, which led all NFL receivers last week.

Dallas Cowboys on Twitter

After his record-setting performance during week 14, @AmariCooper9 is the FIRST #DallasCowboys to win NFC Player of the Week twice in a season! → https://t.co/kvBDIeOgBd #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote

As the official website stated, Cooper is the first Cowboy to win the award twice in the same year. He's also the first Cowboy to be named Offensive Player of the Week since Ezekiel Elliott in 2016.

Before this year, Elliott was the only Dallas player to win the Offensive award in three seasons. Cooper has now done it twice in three weeks.

Since being traded to the Cowboys, Amari Cooper has amassed 40 catches for 642 yards and six touchdowns.

His wasted time in Oakland may keep Cooper out of the Pro Bowl this year, but he's already become a fan favorite in Cowboys Nation. Congratulations to Amari for another well-deserved award!



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David Irving Out Again for Cowboys, Does Defense Need Him?

Sean Martin

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David Irving Out Again for Cowboys, Does Defense Need Him?

Dallas Cowboys Defensive Tackle David Irving, once a key member of the team's defense, will not make his return after all against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. For the second straight week, Irving was reportedly trending towards suiting up before being ruled out. The Cowboys haven't missed his unique presence for 13 weeks (playing against the Jaguars and Redskins), including through an ongoing four game win streak that began with a win against these Eagles on the road.

In that road win, veteran Tyrone Crawford recorded a sack and three tackles, while Antwaun Woods added two for a Dallas defense that held Philadelphia to 23 first downs and 71 rushing yards. The Eagles managed to cross the Cowboys' 30-yard line just four times.

There are many scenarios in which the Cowboys could have cut ties with Irving for not being worth the off-field trouble he's caused - beginning the season with a four game suspension. The absolute best case scenario is what they've realized amidst this turnaround, with other defensive linemen taking advantage of the opportunity left behind by Irving.

While it can still be true that Irving would make more splash plays than the likes of Crawford, Woods, Maliek Collins, and Caraun Reid, this defensive tackle group deserves praise for their ability to step in. Pass rush ability is one thing teams can't have enough of, and the Cowboys are missing some with Irving, finding ways to win thanks to the other traits these defenders bring to the table.

Cowboys Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard may effectively be the team's defensive coordinator with an emphasis on the back seven, but DC Rod Marinelli's impact is still felt - particularly up front. Regardless of where they're lined up and deployed, the Cowboys front four is expected to be disruptive on every snap, something this scrappy unit excels at.

Prepared once again to play on the edge this season, Crawford is thriving at his original position of 3T-DT. Crawford has two sacks, nine total tackles, and three other hits on the quarterback over the past four weeks. Leading by example with a relentless spirit on every play, Crawford has meant just as much to the Cowboys defensive ends as Irving could.

In a short period of time, the Cowboys have gone from building up Irving thanks to his transcendent ability to make those around him better to simply -- and importantly -- being better across the defense.

Led by DeMarcus Lawrence as their premier rusher, the Cowboys defensive line is a lot for opposing offenses to contain. The "Hot Boyz" work up front has allowed Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch to play fast and make plays all over the field.

Maliek Collins, battling back from his second broken foot in three years, is proving again he's a patented Marinelli guy. Collins' play speaks for itself when considering if the Nebraska product is best as a 3T or 1T tackle. Wherever he's asked to play, Collins creates penetration with an explosive first step and can finish at the quarterback with an array of power rush moves.

At 7-5 and fighting for their playoff lives, the Cowboys are done making excuses on the 2018 season. Their strides on defense speak for themselves, and with a group that keeps Dallas in every game they'll play, the door remains open for David Irving to earn snaps again when ready.

The Cowboys don't know any better than their play without Irving right now, and as winners of four straight, it's worth questioning if we'll see Irving over the last three weeks of the regular season.

Tell us what you think about "David Irving Out Again for Cowboys, Does Defense Need Him?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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