If this season has shown the Dallas Cowboys anything, it’s how important linebacker Sean Lee is to their defense. But are they too dependent on him?
Difference makers. We talk so much about having them on your roster as a NFL team. And for the Dallas Cowboys, they have a bonafide difference maker in linebacker Sean Lee. This season alone, the Cowboys are 6-2 when he’s on the field. And they are 1-4 without him.
But Lee is also 31-years old. And now in his eighth season in the league, the veteran has missed a whopping 26 games due to various injuries. Just this year alone, Lee has already missed five games due to a nagging hamstring injury.
Recently, one Cowboys insider reported some staggering numbers showing just how important Lee is to Dallas’ success right now.
"“Since the Week 1 loss to the Giants last season, the Cowboys are 19-2 in games Sean Lee plays at least half the snaps. In those 21 games, they have outscored their opponents by an average of nearly 10 points a game, 27.8-17.9,” wrote Jeff Sullivan for DallasCowboys.com recently. “In the seven games Lee hasn’t played half the snaps, the Cowboys are 1-6 and have been outscored by more than 11 points, 29.0-17.7.”"
After being out for what was basically a month, Lee returned last week to put up an incredible 18 tackles and an interception against the lowly New York Giants. It was a Hall of Fame performance from someone who will likely struggle to get enshrinement due to his vast injury history.
So my question is are the Cowboys, in fact, too dependent on Lee? Considering his age and injury-plagued past, shouldn’t Dallas have proper insurance in place behind the two-time Pro Bowler?
Understandably, it’s unreasonable to think you can back-up someone like Lee with the same level of ability. But surely, growing someone with similar potential to learn directly from the veteran isn’t too much to ask.
For me, that player appears to be Anthony Hitchens. We’ve seen “Hitch” be effective with and without Lee in the lineup. And we’ve all witnessed his growth as a player in Dallas. Although he’s not the linebacker #50 is, Hitchens is only 25-years old. And before this season, the fourth year linebacker had never missed a single game due to injury.
But according to some Cowboy insiders, they don’t believe Dallas will be able to retain Hitchens this offseason, who is scheduled to become a free agent at year’s end. And that’s in part due to the Cowboys other contract concerns (DeMarcus Lawrence, Zack Martin, David Irving) and the emergence of second-year linebacker Jaylon Smith.
Beyond Hitchens and Smith on the linebacker depth chart are Damien Wilson, Justin Durant, Kyle Wilber and Justin March-Lillard. None of whom appear to be earmarked as Lee’s potential replacement on the weakside. Instead, you might expect the Cowboys to look to the upcoming draft in order to solidify the depth along their linebacker corps.
The truth is, the Dallas Cowboys are too dependent on Sean Lee. And, yes adding quality depth behind him will help. But raising the play of the defense as a whole is really the key, so that missing a single player doesn’t drastically drop their chances of success. Especially a 31-year old like Lee, who possesses the injury history that he does.