In recent years, Sean Lee missing any game would ensure a loss, or at the very least, a defensive meltdown. “General” Lee has been maybe the best LB in the league, but has suffered hamstring related issues causing him to miss decent playing time. Since entering the league in 2010, Lee has missed 60 games (averaging 6 games missed per year). From 2015 through 2017, the Cowboys went 1-8 without Lee in the lineup. In the second round of the 2016 NFL draft, the Cowboys took a gamble on LB Jaylon Smith. In his final years of college, Jaylon was considered a potential top 3 pick, drawing comparisons to Lawrence Taylor and Von Miller ( 2 pretty good players). But in a bowl game, Jaylon had a major knee injury causing him to fall out of the first round on most team’s draft boards, or even off the board all together. Seeing his All-pro potential, Cowboys took a chance. Many questioned the decision, and even ridiculed the pick, for fair reasons. Surprising everyone, only a year later, Jaylon played a significant number of snaps. Even though he tallied up a respectable 81 combined tackles, his body seemed to be failing him. He was unable to show his elite burst and speed.
In the 2018 draft, Cowboys spent their first round pick on LB Leighton Vander Esch. Once again, this picked was mocked. Some experts believed the Cowboys should have taken a WR to replace Dez Bryant as the new X receiver on the offense. Others believed that the Cowboys should have traded up and select safety Derwin James. The Jonses seemed to be firmly sure on selecting Vander Esch if given the opportunity– adding another Boise State defensive player to go alongside former Boise State’s Demarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford.
Vander Esch did not get much attention in training camp. Most of the attention on the defense was towards Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones, and Jaylon Smith. Vander Esch, though a first round pick, was not in the spotlight. That is different now. Vander Esch has gathered 40 tackles through five weeks, and is ranked the 2nd Best LB by profootball focus. “LVE” seems to never miss a tackle, which was one of his main criques in college. Jaylon smith leads the team with 41 tackles. Jaylon has showed great burst on many plays so far in the season. 2 come to mind: the first one was against New York when OBJ was lined up in the slot. OBJ, perhaps the most explosive player in the game, ran down the seam. Jaylon was attached to his hip. Jaylon’s coverage caused an incomplete pass. At this moment, Jerry had to have been licking his lips, seeing that his gamble might just have payed off. The second play was last week against the Texans. On a fourth and goal on the one yard line, Dallas lines up in a man defense. Deshawn Watson is in the gun. Jaylon’s job is to spy Watson. Watson gets the ball, looks around, then makes a burst for the end zone. Jaylon ducks his head, and runs to stop him. This is a dead sprint, a race between the QB and LB. Jaylon gets to his spot before Watson and lowers his shoulder, decking Watson. Jaylon Smith single-handily stopped the Texans on the goal-line, ending the first half with an inspirational victory.
Both of these LBs have captivated Cowboy nation. The Cowboys defense has not fallen apart without Sean Lee. Dallas has optimism in their line-backer core for the first time in years. Which leads me to the sad reality…
Sean Lee will be cut in the off season. Next year, Lee will eat up 7 million dollars of the Cowboy’s salary cap. Figuring in how the new, young LBs have been playing, Sean Lee’s injury history, it just makes football sense to cut Lee and use that money to help sign Lawrence, Zeke, or a free agent. This is the nature of the NFL. Eras come and go fast. Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Orlando Scandrick, Dez Bryant have all ended their careers with Dallas in only 3 short years . Sean Lee will most likely follow.