It is truly devastating news out of Valley Ranch on Tuesday as it has now been confirmed by league sources via ESPN’s Ed Werder that Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Sean Lee has been notified he suffered a torn ACL injury in his left knee during the first day of organized team activities and he’ll miss the entire 2014 NFL regular season. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Charean Williams, the Cowboys expect an official confirmation of a torn ACL on Wednesday morning. For Lee, this is his third straight season-ending injury in as many years, as well as his third ACL injury overall.
Observers claim Lee was engaged with Cowboys first round draft pick, offensive tackle Zack Martin, during a screen play when he slipped. Martin then forcefully fell on top of Lee, possibly causing the injury. It was at that point Lee screamed in pain while laying on the ground, sputtered out various expletives and had to be gingerly helped off the field. Cowboys safety Barry Church, who was close to Lee when he went down, was visibly upset, bending at the waste and then flailing his arms in frustration as he unbuckled his chin straps. It’s said his on-field partner, safety J.J. Wilcox, and receiver Dez Bryant had similar reactions to Lee’s injury.
Although the Cowboys players were wearing helmets and jerseys during their first OTA practice, they were not playing in pads and were not supposed to make contact with each other.
Watch the video of Lee getting injured here: http://www.nfl.com/videos/dallas-cowboys/0ap2000000353612/Garrett-discusses-Lee-injury
This afternoon, Lee had an MRI done which confirmed the season-ending ACL injury. This has to be massively frustrating for Lee as this will be the third straight year he has suffered a season-ending injury. In 2012, Lee missed the final 10 games of the season due to a toe injury. Last season, he missed five games due to both a hamstring injury and torn ligaments in his neck.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Lee has had issues with his knees either. While at Penn State in 2009, Lee partially tore the exact same ACL that was damaged on Tuesday. Before that, in early 2008, Lee completely tore the ACL in his right knee.
Despite signing a large seven-year, $42.63 million contract last August, only $16.1 million of it was guaranteed. And the contract has provisions in place that will protect the Cowboys in case of injury, just like the one Lee suffered on Tuesday. According to ESPNDallas.com, Lee would have needed play 80 percent of this year’s regular season games in order to earn an $1.5 million incentive for 2015.
Although the Cowboys drafted Iowa linebacker Anthony Hitchens in the fourth round of this year’s NFL Draft as Lee’s primary back-up, the rookie has already admitted he’s not nearly ready to step into Lee’s shoes. A more likely scenario will be to move weak-side linebacker Bruce Carter to the middle. Carter played well as Lee’s replacement in that very role late last season.
But don’t count out the Cowboys going into free agency to find veteran depth as well. The most likely candidate would be linebacker Ernie Sims. The eight-year veteran gave Dallas some much needed help at the position last season and has been with team since 2012. He was not re-signed over the offseason in lieu of younger talent like Kyle Wilber and DeVonte Holloman. But Sim’s history with the coaching staff, plus his knowledge of the defensive scheme and playbook makes the 29-year old a likely candidate to return.