Read Rowan Kavners original point - "Why Lee Should Be Extended As Soon As Possible"* *
IRVING, Texas – It's possible Sean Lee is the nicest guy in the Dallas Cowboys' locker room. Aside from his undeniable talent and playmaking ability on the field, he's an incredibly pleasant and thoughtful interview.
And that's what makes it feel weird to preach caution about whether the Cowboys should extend their middle linebacker ahead of the 2013 season. Lee's rookie contract expires after this year, and when you combine his talent with his leadership qualities as the defensive play-caller – not to mention his low-key demeanor away from the game – he's exactly the type of guy you'd want to keep as a career Cowboy.
But let's wait for the production to match the contract. Lee's injury woes are well-documented by this point, going back to his time at Penn State and extending through 2012, when he missed 10 games. Even his most productive season as a Cowboy, 2011, saw him miss one game with a wrist injury.
There's no denying his abilities when fully healthy: Lee started 26 straight games as a sophomore and a junior in college, compiling 220 combined tackles for the Nittany Lions in that span. His one 15-game season in Dallas resulted in 131 total tackles – tops on the team.
Lee will tell you himself that the severe turf toe injury that ended his 2012 campaign was a freak in nature and entirely unrelated to the injuries that sidelined him in college. That's true. But if you're just stating facts, it's also true that he's had just as many injury-plagued seasons as healthy ones in the past few years, regardless of the reasoning behind them.
In the black and white, bottom-line business of contract negotiations, one year of top-level production doesn't feel like enough for a healthy contract extension. For one thing, the numbers game doesn't exactly make it easy. The Cowboys have 18 current players whose contracts expire in 2014. Of course, not all of them will make the team, but there are some other names that warrant consideration for a contract.
Three big names with something to prove in 2013 will undoubtedly merit some consideration for some of that money. Anthony Spencer, Jason Hatcher and Will Allen all come up for renewal next spring. Spencer delivered 11.5 sacks and a Pro Bowl nod in his first franchise tag campaign, and the Cowboys should certainly look to secure him if he delivers in his second go-around.
Hatcher's isn't likely to be a blockbuster deal, but his production this season could significantly affect the impact of the new-look 4-3 defense, especially since the Cowboys have opted not to address defensive tackle through the draft.
Then there's Allen, who is in Dallas on a modest, one-year contract. If he manages to deliver as a regular starter in 2013, he might merit consideration for further service. Those three players have combined for 22 NFL seasons, and they have played 13 or more games in 20 of them.
That's the determining factor of an NFL contract – what you have proven you can produce. Lee has all the upside in the world, and would certainly be deserving of a big deal if he can prove himself reliable.
Let's just let the upcoming campaign determine that first.