The Cowboys' Crowded Linebacker Room
Writer: Jameson White
This past week, Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee told 247Sports that he will “play next season.” When he is healthy, he has always been one of the premier linebackers in the game. However, he has been plagued by the injury bug throughout his career.
When he’s gone down with injury in previous years, the Cowboys were unable to recover from losing their best defensive player. That is largely why in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, they drafted Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. As expected, when Lee strained his hamstring early in the season, Vander Esch had to fill into Lee’s role. As the season went on, the rookie made play after play and was put on the entire league’s radar as the Cowboys defense transformed into one of the best in professional football; and this is why Sean Lee saying he will play puts Dallas in such a tough position.
Sean Lee is set to make $7 million this season and carry a cap hit worth more than $10 million at 33 years old. With Lee also in position to be backing up young stars Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, and with Dallas looking to give contract extensions to top tier players such as Dak Prescott, Demarcus Lawerence, Byron Jones, and Amari Cooper, they cannot have a backup linebacker taking up so much cap space. Therefore, their only options are to either ask Lee to take a pay-cut or outright release their longtime defensive leader.
Just a couple of seasons ago, releasing Lee seemed unfathomable as he was the only real, proven talent for a defense that was among the league’s worst in nearly every statistical category. That is not the case anymore as Dallas now possesses one of the youngest, most athletic defenses that also finished within the top 10 in the NFL in both scoring and total defense.
The time is now for the Cowboys to make a push for the Super Bowl push; they have their most complete team since Bill Parcells was roaming the sidelines. In order for them to be a legit contender and make a deep run in the playoffs, they must have the financial freedom necessary to put the finishing touches on the roster. Unfortunately, this means that older, injury prone players can no longer be in the Cowboys’ long-term plans; because Lee is in both the “older” and “injury prone” categories, his days of commanding the Dallas defense are over.