Can the Cowboys afford to keep injury-prone Sean Lee?

ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 26: Jalen Richard
ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 26: Jalen Richard /

Sean Lee’s price tag balloons next season and may force the Dallas Cowboys to severe ties with their injury prone star linebacker

The Dallas Cowboys went out on a limb in 2010 when they selected Sean Lee in the second round. Lee was regarded by many as one of the best, if not the best, 4-3 linebacker in the draft. But a nasty knee injury cast doubt as to whether he could be a contributor at any point his rookie season.

As many in Cowboys Nation know, the investment paid off. Lee may have taken a little while longer than most to start his professional career, but once he did he quickly established himself as one of the best in the NFL. And for the better part of the decade Lee has led the Cowboys defense.

The only blemish on his otherwise brilliant Cowboys career has been his inability to stay healthy. In his eight seasons with the team, he’s never been able to play a full 16 games.

They may not be able to afford to pay him, but they can’t afford to lose him either.

As the quarterback of the defense, Lee has been instrumental in the success of the defense.

When he plays, the defense typically plays well. When he doesn’t play, the defense typically falls apart.

It seems the Cowboys sink or swim based Sean Lee’s presence. That’s never been more true than this season. Pinning so much responsibility on one injury-prone player is a dangerous game the Cowboys are playing. Additionally, it has caused countless headaches for coaches and fans alike.

Can the Cowboys afford Lee?

Next season Sean Lee’s salary elevates considerably. According to Sportac, it jumps from $7,316,666 to $11,016,666. $11M is a lot to pay an iron man linebacker but an injury-prone linebacker? It’s almost unheard of.  Point blank, the Cowboys cannot afford to pay him his salary as is. Not with players like DeMarcus Lawrence, Anthony Hitchens, and David Irving set to become free agents.

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None of this means this is Sean Lee’s last season with the Cowboys either. At 32 (his age next season), he’ll still have plenty to offer the club. Besides, it’s pretty well established the Cowboys stink without him. They may not be able to afford to pay him, but they can’t afford to lose him either.

That’s why a new deal seems extremely likely. Lee’s contract expires at the end of the 2018 season (with an option year in 2019). Giving him a brand new four or five year deal that averages around $7 million per season would be in line with what he’s been making in the past. It would also be digestible enough for the Cowboys and help them live with his inevitable injuries that come with employing Lee.

If we’re being honest with ourselves, we have to admit Sean Lee’s best days are behind him. He’s injury-prone and he’s on the wrong side of 30. As the Cowboys embark on their youth movement and prepare for the future, they must be mindful of how they handle their veterans.

Sean Lee is the best defensive player on the roster so he must be retained. But retaining him cannot come at the cost of players like David Irving or Tank Lawrence because their best days are ahead of them.

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It’s going to be nearly impossible to justify paying an injury-prone player like Sean Lee over $11 million next season. But it’s going to be even harder to justify letting him walk. The only feasible solution is to extend Lee’s contract, reworking next season into a more tolerable amount and keeping Lee in Dallas for his final four to five years.