With free agency looming in March, roster turnover isn't far away. However, the majority of the 2019 roster is already in place. In the coming weeks, DallasCowboys.com will feature players who are currently under contract for next season, analyzing their past season and their future prospects.
Today, we continue the series with linebacker Sean Lee.
What's Been Good: Lee still can be an instinctive, productive player when healthy. Back from injury late last season, he was the best Cowboys linebacker against the Rams (admittedly, a below-par performance from the overall defense in that divisional-round playoff loss). Lee still posted 37 tackles and a half-sack in only seven games in 2018. The 32-year-old defensive captain will be back on a restructured contract in 2019, and his intangibles are just as important as tackles. The Cowboys credited him with supporting the development of rising linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, last year's first-round pick who made All-Pro and the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
What's Been Bad: The injuries, obviously. No one's frustrated by them more than Lee, one of the most dedicated players in the history of the franchise. Last offseason he worked diligently to prevent the hamstring issues that plagued him in 2017, yet he still missed nine games with injuries to both hamstrings in 2018 and said after the playoff loss to L.A. that he needed to contemplate his football future. Clearly the desire to play remains. The key will be staying on the field. Perhaps a reduced snap count will make a difference in his 10th season with the team that drafted him back in 2010.
2018 Highlight: Lee posted a team-best and season-high 10 tackles in Week 3 at Seattle before leaving with a hamstring injury. The Seahawks won, 24-13, but gained only 295 yards and needed 32 carries from Chris Carson to top the 100-yard rushing mark.
What's Next: What role will Lee have in 2019? Smith and Vander Esch look entrenched as the starting middle and weak-side linebackers. Last year's starting strong-side linebacker, Damien Wilson, is an unrestricted free agent. Lee could play that spot – more of a part-time role because the Cowboys aren't always in their base defense – but it's also a more physical position. Lee moved to the weak side in 2015 to cover him up from blockers and allow him to run and make plays. The Cowboys did deploy a series-based rotation last season when Lee, Vander Esch and Smith were all active, and that could continue in 2019.
What will Sean Lee's role look like in the linebacker rotation next season? We discuss in our latest Star Evaluation entry.
Bryan Broaddus' Bottom Line: It's been an interesting year for Lee. The once All-Pro linebacker has been asked to take a reduction in salary, and it appears that he is willing to do so in order to extend his career with the Cowboys for another season. I have a strong feeling that Lee could have balked at the idea of a reduction and forced the Cowboys to release him, but that has never been his style. Lee has always believed in the team. Sure, the money has been outstanding but he plays this game for a different reason. He plays for himself, but more importantly he plays for his coaches and those guys in the locker room with him. The shame about Lee's career is, for a guy that loves the game as much as he does it's taken so much from him health wise. His career sadly will be remembered for the number of games he didn't play as for the ones he did. Maybe this will be the year that without the pressure of having to line up every snap he plays the entire season. One can only hope that for a guy like Lee that having a season without injury would mean more to him than anything.