Cowboys’ Sean Lee, two-time Pro Bowler, retires after 11 seasons

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K.D. Drummond
·3 min read
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The Dallas Cowboys have said goodbye to several of their stalwarts over the last two offseasons. After a brief hiatus, tight end Jason Witten returned for the 2019 season and then moved on in free agency. Earlier this offseason, the club and long-time long snapper L.P. Ladouceur went their separate ways. Those two combined for 32 seasons in a Cowboys uniform.

Their departure led to linebacker Sean Lee as the potentially longest-tenured player in Dallas, but alas, his career has reached its conclusion. After 11 years in the league and two Pro Bowls the 2016 First-Team All Pro has decided to call it quits.

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Lee finished with 802 career combined tackles, 14 career interceptions (plus one in the 2019 playoffs), 4 fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and 1.5 career sacks. He was known as one of the smartest defensive players of his generation, sometimes outsmarting his own defensive coaches and was an asset whenever he was on the field or the sideline.

Unfortunately Lee’s legacy will be about exactly how much time he was sidelined as injuries forced him to miss numerous games throughout his career. His 2014 season was wiped out after an ACL tear in training camp, but even without that missing season, lower body injuries derailed almost every season.

Drafted in the second round in 2010 due to a collegiate knee injury at Penn State, the first-round worthy talent would miss just three games over his first two seasons. In 2012 he would play just 6 games and then just 11 the following year before missing all of 2014.

In back-to-back Pro Bowl years he’d miss just three games between 2015 and 2016, showing the world how dynamic a player he was when healthy. He combined for 273 tackles over those seasons and in 2016 had an Approximate Value (a metric that quantifies performance across football eras) of 19, ranking fourth-best according to Pro Football Reference.

The injuries returned however and he’d see action in parts of just 17 games over the next few seasons. Relegated to a backup role after the drafting of Leighton Vander Esch in 2018’s first round, Lee was actually able to come in when injuries hit elsewhere and he played all 16 games in a season for the first time ever in 2019, starting 13 contests.

2020 saw him playing on a one-year, $4.5 million deal but only able to suit up for 9 contests.

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Much speculation has been made on whether or not Lee would pursue a career in coaching, and while that has not been answered, it would seem to be an easy transition for him. In team documentaries and behind-the-scene clips from NFL Films, Lee is routinely coaching his fellow linebackers and has been noted as corrected scheme issues in play calls made by his coaches.

Lee has shown the physical ability to have had one of the league’s best careers at the position, but the brutality of the sport did him no favors in this regard.

The Cowboys signed former Atlanta Falcons safety Keanu Neal to play linebacker this past offseason. Dallas still has holes to fill at the position as Joe Thomas signed elsewhere this offseason and special teamer Justin March remains unsigned. Behind Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith and Neal, Dallas also has UDFA talents Francis Bernard and Luke Gifford, as well as Azur Kamara on the roster.

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