IRVING, Texas – And we thought it couldn't ever get more frustrating for Sean Lee.
But eager to shed this injury-prone label and finally come into his own and possibly establish himself as one of the NFL's best linebackers, Lee couldn't even make it through the first OTA practice Tuesday before he suffered the most significant injury of his pro career.
Although the Cowboys have yet to officially announce the news, Lee has been informed that he has a torn ACL in his left knee. The injury more than likely will put him on injured reserve for all of the 2014 season.
While the Cowboys don't have to make a decision right now, it's likely Lee will start training camp on PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) and then the Cowboys would have about nine weeks before they'd have to place him on IR or activate him.
This is just the latest of unfortunate setbacks for Lee, who has missed 18 games in his first four seasons, including five of the final six games last season because of two separate injuries. It was a neck injury that sidelined him for the last three games of the season.
Even in college, Lee had multiple setbacks, including a torn ACL in the same left knee that plagued him at Penn State and certainly hurt his draft stock. The Cowboys admittedly had Lee ranked among the Top 16 players in the 2010 draft but were able to draft him 55th overall in the second round.
"Sean's had to deal with injuries through college and also here in the NFL and he really does everything he can to get himself ready to play," head coach Jason Garrett said. "Unfortunately he's had to deal with a few of these things but he's as mentally tough an individual as I've ever been around. So whatever the circumstances are he always puts his best foot forward and strives to be his best. Don't anticipate this being any different."
Lee was recently cleared by the Cowboys' medical staff to participate in full for the start of the OTA practices. Towards the end of Tuesday's practice, Lee was chasing down a screen pass when he collided with rookie guard Zack Martin in the middle of the field. Lee was trying to stop when his left foot planted into the ground at the same time Martin ran into him. Immediately, Lee dropped to the ground, where he stayed for about two minutes before needing assistance in walking off the field. [embedded_ad]
"I really don't know what happened there," Martin said. "It was just a football play and we were both going full speed. I really don't know."
The obviously-frustrated linebacker couldn't hide his emotions as he went into the locker room.
The high energy and enthusiasm that was evident at the start of practice was completely zapped when Lee went down. His teammates, including the offensive players, feel the loss of Lee.
"Sean's been as committed and hardworking a teammate as I've ever been around," Romo said. "I love the guy like a brother. He's the epitome of what you want in a football player. You always know Sean's going to give you 100 percent. Anytime you can get as many of him as you can on a football team, you've got a great chance."
With Lee now likely out, the Cowboys will likely turn to either DeVonte Holloman, Justin Durant or even rookie Anthony Hitchens, a fourth-round pick from Iowa.
The Cowboys might even look to the free-agent market for help. Notable names such as Jonathan Vilma, Dan Connor and Erin Henderson are available.