Bad News for Lee and the Cowboys
The numbers are staggering for Sean Lee. Not the tackles and assists and sack totals, but the games missed because of injury totals. Lee went down again on Tuesday, on a routine play during the teams OTA workout at Valley Ranch. The players weren’t even in pads, just shorts and jerseys when Lee covered a screen pass and got tangled up with first round pick Zack Martin. Lee tore his left ACL and is expected to miss the entire 2014 season. Aside from Tony Romo being eaten by a shark while surfing in Hawaii, this is the worst news Jerry Jones and the Cowboys could have received. Lee was the leader of the defense and the team was depending on him to revive their last-ranked defense for the upcoming season.
As good as Lee has been in his limited play since the Cowboys drafted him, his inability to stay healthy is what stands out. He tore his right ACL in 2008 while playing at Penn State, the next year he partially tore the left ACL. He missed two games as a rookie in 2010 with a hamstring injury and one game in 2011 with a dislocated wrist, playing most of that season wearing a cast. Toe surgery forced him to miss 10 games in 2012. Lee missed five games last season with hamstring and neck injuries. He was cleared from the neck injury at the start of this off-season program in April.
That’s six consecutive years that he’s suffered some type of injury and most of the them have been pretty bad. A bad toe may not sound like a serious injury but if it causes you to miss 10 of 16 games, it’s bad.
Unfortunately Lee’s legacy with the Cowboys seems to be headed in the direction of, “could have been a great linebacker, but could never stay on the field.” The Cowboys used three middle linebackers last year after Lee got hurt but never found anyone close to having his sense for finding the ball and making plays, or his leadership. When Lee was just a rookie, veterans on the team like DeMarcus Ware were commenting on what a born leader he was. He was also well liked and willing to do whatever the team asked of him off the field. In other words, the Cowboys found a gem that they thought could be a pillar of their defense foe a decade. The believed in him so much that the Cowboys signed Lee to a six-year extension last summer worth as much as $51 million. It included a $10 million signing bonus. The base value of the deal is worth $42 million, and Lee could have earned up to $9 million more if he played in at least 80 percent of the snaps. That last clause was smart on the Cowboys part, financially speaking, but will cost Lee millions.
In the meantime, the Cowboys have fourth round pick Anthony Hitchens of Iowa who they drafted this year to back up Lee, and second year player DeVonte Holloman, who played well enough last year to impress the coaches and could move into Lee’s starting spot. Signing veteran free-agent middle linebackers such as Rocky McIntosh and Jonathan Vilma are also possibilities. Any of those possibilities could help the defense but let’s not kid ourselves, none of them are close to being Sean Lee.