The career of Sean Lee has been a roller coaster, to say the least. His time at Penn State should’ve been a warning, though, considering he had an ACL tear in both knees. However, that didn’t stop the Dallas Cowboys from trading their second (59th overall) and fourth-round (125th overall) picks to move up to snag Lee with the 55th overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft. A high risk that could potentially produce a high reward. After nine seasons it’s safe to say the Cowboys have experienced both the good and bad with Lee during his tenure in Dallas.
Even after a turf toe injury put him on injured reserve in 2012, Lee would sign a six-year 42 million dollar extension with over 16 million in guaranteed money in 2013, and the injuries kept coming. He would miss the entire 2014 season when he tore his ACL after being blocked by then-rookie Guard Zack Martin in OTAs and was replaced by Rolando McClain at middle linebacker.
Lee would switch to weakside linebacker a year later and see his production increase to 128 tackles, which was the most of his career at the time. It was good enough to earn him his first pro bowl nod even though he did miss two games with a hamstring injury and a concussion. He set a new career-high in tackles in 2016 with 145 as he lead the Cowboys top-ranked run defense to a 13-3 record and his first and only All-Pro selection. But again, he would miss a game with a hamstring injury.
2017 was still pretty productive for Lee as he reached triple digits in tackles for a third straight season, but multiple hamstring injuries would cost him 5 games and seriously start to make the idea of finding a replacement much more attractive. All this lead to the Cowboys drafting Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. The return on the investment came quickly as the rookie lead the team in tackles with 140 and was named a pro bowler and second-team All-Pro. Meanwhile, Lee would play in the second-fewest games of his career with seven and register his second-fewest starts with five.
2019 hasn’t started off ideal for Lee either as last month he suffered an MCL sprain during training camp practice. Albeit minor it was the latest red mark on an injury-filled resume for Lee. A guy who at one time was mentioned with Seattle’s Bobby Wagner and Carolina’s Luke Kuechly as the best linebackers in the game is now a regular for unflattering punchlines. So what does the future hold for Sean Lee?
The Cowboys run mostly out of the nickel package on defense with two linebackers, those will be Jaylon Smith and Vander Esch, which will reduce Lee’s snap count in an attempt to keep him healthy. He’s also undergone another wardrobe change from weakside linebacker to strongside. Ideally, the Cowboys would love for their two young studs to continue their progression with the veteran Lee by their side as a mentor. Unfortunately, history says it’s only a matter of time before he’s on the shelf again.
The organization is hoping for the former because it would give them the best linebacking trio in the NFL. Lee and his leadership can’t be undervalued but can he survive another season filled with injuries? This is one of the many questions heading into 2019 and one that could be answered rather quickly with another devastating but predictable setback.