Dec 23, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys injured linebacker Sean Lee (50) on the bench during the game against the New Orleans Saints at Cowboys Stadium. The Saints beat the Cowboys 34-31 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Deja Vu For Dallas Defense

For everyone who cares about the Dallas Cowboys, works for the team in some capacity or loyally follows the every move of this organization, Tuesday, May 27th felt like deja vu.  Here was the team, back on the field together for the first Organized Team Activity of 2014 and there, on that same field, in a crumbled heap was the season for LB Sean Lee.  Again.  It could have been November 10, 2013 or December 9, 2013 or October 21, 2012.  The date doesn’t matter.  The result is the same.  Another season in which Sean Lee will be wearing street clothes instead of pads and a jersey.

And so the same refrain begins yet again.  “Next Man Up.”  It seems all to often, this phrase is thrown out there when it comes to the Cowboys, especially the defense.  Injuries were on the level of an epidemic last year as over seventeen different people made appearances on the defensive line.  The season prior saw devastating injuries to the linebacker corps and secondary as nine defensive players ended the season on injured reserve.  This season will mark the third straight year that Sean Lee will not be available for the Cowboys at the end of the year.  Deja Vu.

When I first heard the news and there was little being said, I already knew.  All it took was to see which player suffered an injury and I was sure it was going to be bad news.  With Lee, it’s always something.  Left knee (now twice), right knee, hamstring, neck, shoulder, wrist, toe.  Lee is running out of body parts that have not kept him from missing a game, let alone multiple games.  It’s sad, but it’s true.  The unfortunate part in all of this is that we are truly missing out on watching a highly-skilled, extremely talented player get to his job.  Facts are facts however, and the fact remains that Sean Lee is simply unreliable.

So, what do the Cowboys do?

For the short-term, it appears that Dallas is going to attempt to spread its already thin linebacker unit and experiment with different in-house options to fill the void.  DeVonte Holloman, Justin Durant and rookie fourth round pick Anthony Hitchens will all get an opportunity to be the answer.  Holloman has the best chance to take over the gig as he did have some experience last year when Lee went down and played decently.  Regardless, Hitchens should also see significant playing time at this spot too.

If neither of these options appear to work out well for the Cowboys, it would not be an absolute shock to see them bring in a veteran during training camp.  Hopefully, it does not come to that however because you would like to see one of the young guys take the reins.  There also are not a lot of choices out there as far as veterans are concerned and the ones that are available all come with issues which is why they’re available in the first place.

Long term is another story altogether.

As great of a player as Lee is when he is on the field, the issue is that he isn’t on the field as much as he should be.  Thankfully, the Cowboys counterbalanced the dumb move of giving Lee an unnecessary extension by at least protecting themselves by installing playing time clauses into the contract.  Since he will miss all of 2014, Lee will not see a penny of the $1.5 million bonus he was scheduled to received next year.  This bonus was only in play if he played in 80% of the teams games in 2013 and this coming season.  The injury will also protect the Cowboys beyond next season as that 80% threshold is in play for future seasons 2016-2019 as well.  Since Lee missed five games last season and will miss all sixteen this year, he will total only 34% (11 out of 32) of games played in the previous two years.

Even if Lee never misses another game as a Cowboy (which would be amazing… and unbelievable), he’ll have no chance to ever cash in on bigger bonuses down the road.  Calculate sixteen games played next season (27 out of 48) and 2016 (43 out of 64), Lee still falls well short of the 80% stipulation, as that would only be 67%.  Two more hypothetically injury free seasons in 2017 and 2018 STILL leave him short as that would only get him to 78%.  Because of this structuring of his contract, the Cowboys end up coming out ahead either way.  One side of the coin represents Lee never missing another game which is clearly good for Dallas and if that happens, they will owe him nothing extra.

Alas, the likelihood of that happening is slim and none.  Reality dictates we’ll probably be talking about another Sean Lee injury sometime in 2015 or 2016.  If that’s the case, the Cowboys have a different difficult decision to make and that is whether or not to just move on completely and release him.  Hopefully, it does not come to that, but ultimately, that may just be what’s in the stars for Sean Lee.  He may just be that ultimate “if only” guy which would truly be the saddest part to this whole situation.

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Tags: Dallas Cowboys Sean Lee

  • Earl Robertson

    It like this guy read my comments and then wrote a story about it

  • SmartThinking

    No, Tyrone, the saddest part of this whole situation is that the Dallas braintrust has made a habit out of drafting players with significant injury histories because many of the smarter teams pass them over knowing what we, sadly, seem to learn at the beginning of every season.

    It’s my opinion, and I’ve stated it in this forum before, that not enough emphasis is given to young players’ college injury histories when Dallas begins the scouting process to draft them. Sure, players like Lee and Claiborne and Murray and Crawford, etc, etc., were all highly ranked on other teams’ draft boards. But every one of these guys and several others on this Dallas team whose names escape me now, suffered injuries in college that should have been more significantly taken into account than they were at draft time.

    Claiborne couldn’t participate for six months because he was recovering from surgeries from injuries suffered in college. To hear him tell it, he’s just now recovered fully, after two full pro seasons, from those nagging injuries.

    The same holds true for Lee and the others. Now, I’m not suggesting that college injuries should negate drafting a player. The game is a violent sport and bad things happen to good players every time they go toe to toe. What I am saying, however, is, this organization seems to prize highly those players they can get on the cheap — kind of like buying at a cracked and dented sale.

    Fixing this problem, to me at least, starts by placing more weight to a player’s injury history. The medical staff and the strength and conditioning people need to have a bigger say in the process of assessing a player before he’s drafted. And finally, it’s also my opinion, that it’s each individual player’s responsibility to take better care of their bodies and come to the OTA’s and training camp better prepared. We cannot do anything about the League’s policy about not playing in pads, or participating at 1/2 speed or, even for how long these practices can go on. But we can enter every season with players more acutely aware of the pitfalls of not being at their elite best once the first whistle blows and the OTA’s begin for real.

    • Scott.

      Spot on.

    • Greg Hill

      Amen smartthinking. I believe Lee’s contract is 16 million guaranteed plus the incentives noted. He gets the 16 million even if he never plays again. That’s right, guaranteed money to a player with knee issues in college and in the NFL prior to signing his current contract. The bigger problem is the GM has a lifetime guaranteed contract.

  • Old Frog

    I don’t see where this injury clause is any great help. He misses $1.5 million but still gets $6 million guaranteed? Seems upside down to me. I hope in the future the Cowboys figure that out.

  • David

    The defense will be Deja Vu because of the lack of playmakers on defense. The Cowboys linebackers minus Lee were average to bad. Their corners were also not very good and lacked playmaking ability. Their safeties again were average to horrible with no playmaking ability. In the draft they got two offensive players out of their first four picks while losing their 3rd round pick. I hope Lawrence is a great pick and a playmaker but under Marinelli’s scheme he will be a part time rotational player. That still leaves huge holes at LB and Safety. If guys like Holloman, Wilcox, Church, Durant, Carter and whoever plays the Mike dont step up their game this defense wont be much better than last year. And dont think I am letting the corners off the hook, they need to rebound and step up their game as well. While I love the Martin pick, it will be interesting to see how Dix and Pryor’s careers evolve. I think Martin is a futre long term pro bowler but also think Pryor will be a difference play making safety as well. The bottom line is Dallas needs to draft defensive playmakers over the next few drafts if they want to have any chance of winning a title under Romo.