Offseason | 2021

Mick Shots: Now Looking For The Next Sean Lee

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FRISCO, Texas – With the 10th pick in the 2021 National Football League Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select …

Who?

We find out on Thursday some time right after 8 p.m.

But at least we know the "what."

"What you do expect from that 10th pick is you hope you get a little bit of all of the above – elite football character, great skills," Cowboys COO Stephens Jones said, drawing up the poster of the perfect pick. "As you go in the draft, mid-first round, late first round, top of the second, they don't necessarily check all of the boxes, so that gets difficult.

"But we're certainly looking for the type of football player there with the 10th pick that can check all of the boxes."

Just like the one sitting on stage with him Tuesday afternoon at the beginning of the Cowboys' pre-draft press conference here at The Star, and from Stephen's description, might as well have just put a picture on the big screen behind him when he went on to say, "In this draft, I really do believe we can find an elite football player with elite football character, that's healthy, that's everything you want."

Yay, one just like No. 50, Sean Lee.

Just give me uh-nother. Just like the retiring 11-year veteran. Talent. Character. Smarts. Hard-working. Beyond reproach.

Over these past 11 seasons, Lee has drained the adjectives right out of my limited vocabulary. So here are three vignettes that describe Sean Lee to a T.

The date was May 27, 2014. First OTA practice. Helmets, jersey, shorts, no pads, no contact. Lee already had missed two games in 2010, his rookie year (hamstring); one game in 2011 (wrist); the final 10 games of 2012 (torn big toe ligament); and five games in 2013, two with a hamstring and the final three with a season-ending strained neck ligament.

So there was Lee, out there with the first-team defense in an 11-on-11 drill. Pass goes out into the flat to running back DeMarco Murray. Lee moves out to his left to cut off Murray, who turns back inside. Lee, who is not going to really tackle him, plants his left foot to cut back right to act as if he is going to make the pseudo tackle. His left knee gives out, and then rookie guard Zack Martin falls over him.

Torn ACL. Same one he suffered a partial tear of at Penn State and one of the reasons this top-15 pick fell to the Cowboys in the second round. Out for the season.

A week or so later, bumped into Sean in the locker room out at The Ranch following his surgery. He was on crutches. Looked at him and shook my head. He gave me a wry smile, and I said, "Sean, come on, it was an OTA practice. Couldn't you just let Murray go?"

Got this sheepish grin. He knew what I was saying, almost conceding, "I know, I know, but I was just trying to do what's right," meaning getting into position to make the tackle.

That's just so Sean Lee.

Then there was this, early in his career, maybe second or third year: Cowboys held a practice out at AT&T Stadium, followed by a reception with the Cowboys Alumni players. Players were mostly hanging out with others from their generation, like some junior high sock-hop back in the day, girls over here, boys over there.

Not Sean Lee. He sought out Cowboys Ring of Honor middle linebacker Lee Roy Jordan. Went right up to "Mr. Jordan," introduces himself. Jordan shakes his hand, saying, "Hey, I know who you are." They proceeded to sit at a table, just the two of them talking, Sean picking the brain of maybe the best middle linebacker to play for the Cowboys. And it wasn't just gratuitous chatter. Lee was intently listening, seemingly like he was about to take notes.

So Sean Lee, such a student of the game.

And then there was this: Sept. 20, 2015, second game of the season, at Philadelphia. Cowboys win, 20-10. Lee finishes with 14 tackles (10 solo), three for losses, one QB pressure and two passes broken up. Wins NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Afterward, there was some chatter coming out of Philly that the Cowboys were stealing Eagles signals.

Ha! Sean Lee had studied the Eagles video so much leading up to the game, he knew their plays like the back of his hand; knew what they were doing before they were doing it.

So Sean Lee.

And now you know why Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said, "I do look forward to the day he comes back into the building."

No kidding.

  • Defensive Twist: If the Cowboys indeed draft the first defensive player on Thursday at No. 10, that will be the latest a defensive player has been selected in an NFL Draft since 1957 when the Chicago Cardinals – yep, that long ago – selected Oklahoma unanimous All-America center/linebacker Jerry Tubbs. And guess what? Tubbs, who ended up playing linebacker in the NFL, was taken by the expansion Cowboys in the 1960 expansion draft when they were allowed to grab three unprotected players from each team. Tubbs ended up starting at middle linebacker for the Cowboys for the next six seasons, became a player/coach in 1966, giving way to 1963 first-round pick Lee Roy Jordan, and wound up a Tom Landry assistant for the next 22 seasons. Four future Hall of Famers were selected among the first nine picks that draft: 1. RB Paul Hornung; 5. QB Len Dawson; 6. RB Jim Brown; 8. G Jim Parker. Five others became Pro Bowlers, including Tubbs with the Cowboys (1962), who passed away in 2012 at age 77.
  • Health Report: While many seem worried about the health of the Cowboys offensive line, especially after starting right tackle La'el Collins missed the entire 2020 season needing hip surgery and starting left tackle Tyron Smith missed 14 games requiring neck surgery, I'm told both guys are progressing well through their rehab and will be ready to go for 2021. Both are running really well at this point, four months before the start of the season. And as for Martin, missing the final five games and parts of another with a severely strained calf muscle, forget about it. He's just fine.
  • So Long Buddy: After reading DeMarcus Lawrence's farewell tribute to retiring buddy Tyrone Crawford, sure glad he's making enough money playing football that he doesn't come after my columnist job. If you haven't done so, read the piece on The Players' Tribune, titled "To My Brother, Tyrone Crawford." Good stuff.
  • Draft Tidbits: If the Cowboys had not spent their future 1990 first-round pick in the '89 supplemental draft to select Miami quarterback Steve Walsh, they would have a second straight No. 1 pick in the draft after taking Troy Aikman in 1989. Assuming they would not have needed eventual 1990 No. 1 pick Jeff George (Colts), they would have had their choice of running back Blair Thomas, defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, linebacker Keith McCants and linebacker Junior Seau. Guessing the Cowboys would have gone defense there, and likely either Kennedy, McCants or Seau since Jimmy was hell bent on taking Baylor linebacker James Francis, who went No. 12 to Cincinnati. Just think, might have ended up with two Hall of Famers in that draft, Kennedy or Seau and one Emmitt Smith at No. 17 … Like that the Cowboys have the "Bat Phone" wired and ready if calls start coming from teams wanting to trade up to No. 10, especially if they are trading up for a quarterback and no defensive player has gone off the board. Hold 'em hostage for a boatload of picks.

And as is only proper, the last word this week goes to Lee, recounting his last words to his Cowboys teammates:

"I talked a little bit about that, the responsibilities of upholding this tradition and the sense of urgency you want to come in with. Wear that on your sleeve every single day. It's a huge responsibility, but it's a great responsibility. And every day you walk in here, come with that sense of urgency that you belong to this, that you should be proud of it, but take that to the next level. I mean, that's the thing I tried to do every day here: Hey, how can I help because I've had so much help, and I've had some of the old guys reach out during my time. To be part of that, it's been so special.

"And it moves so quick. I know that's cliché, but it flies by. You think about it, how fast time moves. Like I said, that call on draft day, that doesn't seem so long ago. And take advantage of that at all costs because you are lucky to be here."

Sure am during Sean Lee's 11 years. Enjoy the beach, big guy.

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