Sean Lee isn’t the player he used to be, but the Cowboys are doing the smart thing by keeping the veteran linebacker in their starting lineup.
There was a time when Sean Lee was the most important player on the Cowboys defense. Unfortunately for Lee, those days are gone. That doesn’t mean he is no longer capable of helping his teammates forge a quality defense in Dallas.
Fortunately for Lee and his fans, the Cowboys seem to understand that reality. They aren’t prepared to put the 32-year-old linebacker out to pasture. Instead, reports emanating from Dallas claim that Lee is set to remain in the team’s starting lineup.
A position change is in the offing for Lee, though. He won’t be free to patrol the field as the team’s middle linebacker any longer. Instead, he’s going to take over for Damien Wilson as the team’s starter at the strongside linebacker position.
Most people believed Lee was slated to become the primary backup to Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith on the inside. Both young linebackers provide Jason Garrett and his coaching staff with significantly more athleticism than Lee does at this point in his career. Keeping either of them on the bench in favor of the veteran would have been a poor personnel decision by the Cowboys.
Lee’s lack of speed won’t cause Dallas nearly as many problems on the strongside of the field. It’s easy to envision him becoming an above-average starter there. Even though he’s not the player he was just a few seasons ago, his instincts for the game are still exceptional. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if Lee manages to become a fringe Pro Bowler playing on the outside.
Playing behind DeMarcus Lawrence should allow Lee to compete against single blockers the vast majority of the time. That will put Lee in position to become a stout run defender. Perhaps more importantly for the Cowboys, having a steady linebacker like Lee to protect the strongside of the field will free Vander Esch and Smith to get downhill and make plays in the opposing backfield.
Lee’s biggest impact for his team in 2019 might come in the locker room. He’s widely regarded as one of the best leaders in the modern NFL. That’s crucial for a Cowboys defense that is still very young at quite a few spots.
Credit Dallas for figuring out a way to keep Lee on the roster and still get use out of him as a starter. That’s a difficult needle for NFL teams to thread. The Cowboys have managed to do it both gracefully and effectively.