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Sean Lee’s retirement leaves Cowboys with more questions at linebacker

Sean Lee was often the defensive field general for the Dallas Cowboys during his 11-year career at middle linebacker

DALLAS — It wasn’t one of the more pressing questions for the Dallas Cowboys this offseason, but one piece of the team’s puzzle was finally revealed Monday. Linebacker Sean Lee announced his retirement from the NFL and the Dallas defense will move forward without him as an option.

The Cowboys were in a wait-and-see approach with Lee, who decided to walk away from a stellar career as one of the perennial leaders of the defense.

Dallas selected Lee in the second round out of Penn State in the 2010 draft and he was one of the game’s best linebackers when he was on the field throughout the next decade. Known for his tenacity, Lee was a commanding presence on and off the field for the franchise.

Lee was appropriately given the moniker of "General Lee" during his tenure in Dallas, and his benevolence and abilities will be missed. 

Lee was consistently one of the best defenders on the field for the Cowboys. Although he only played a full season once in his 11 years as a pro, Lee led the Cowboys in interceptions twice, totaling 14 in his career, and had six seasons with 100 or more tackles. Lee was a two-time Pro Bowl player and was a First-Team All-Pro during the 2016 season.

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Unfortunately, Lee also had trouble staying healthy and had a long history of injuries. Lee appeared in 118 out of a possible 176 games with the Cowboys, a number that rubbed some fans the wrong way, and missed the entire 2014 season with a torn ACL.

Nevertheless, he was a warrior who fought through injuries to get into the lineup and his toughness could never be questioned.

Lee’s absence will be felt. When he wasn’t on the field, he was on the sideline acting as a teacher while helping to coach up the defense. Few can forget the sight of Lee sitting all alone watching film immediately after the 2017 season ended as featured in the Amazon series “All or Nothing."

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The veteran’s aptitude and love for the game could still tie him to the Cowboys. It has been speculated that Dallas might eventually retain Lee as a defensive coach, although that has yet to be determined. Lee has the makings of an outstanding coach so he would be an asset to keep in the fold.

The retirement before the draft makes sense and it gives the Cowboys time to continue to find help at the position. Even with Lee, the team lacked depth and skill at linebacker over the last couple of seasons, so his retirement should have no bearing on what Dallas will do to address those issues. Lee likely wasn’t going to be being counted on as a full-time player, had he played, especially as a soon-to-be 35-year old.

Sean Lee gave his heart and soul to play football for the Dallas Cowboys. He was one of the better players on the Cowboys over his 11 seasons, but Lee’s body wouldn’t allow him to unlock his full potential. Lee should leave the game as a player with no regrets, however.

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As for the Cowboys, they will need to find a new set of leaders to fill the void after the retirements of defensive stalwarts Tyrone Crawford and Lee this offseason. While Lee’s studiousness and perseverance will be missed on the field, there is hope that he can stay close to the organization moving forward.

Do you think the Cowboys will be able to make do at linebacker without Sean Lee? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.