Sean Lee

NFC East Notes: Giants, Cowboys, Brown

With Landon Collins and Olivier Vernon out of the picture, the Giants‘ defense has plenty of needs. Second-year GM Dave Gettleman has also jettisoned Jason Pierre-Paul, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Eli Apple and Damon Harrison from the team since taking over. Collins’ reputation as a box safety, albeit one of the best in the NFL, looks to have played into the Giants’ reasoning for refusing to use an $11MM-plus franchise tag on him, with Ralph Vacchiano of SNY noting the team did not always believe the All-Pro defender was an adequate cover man. Gettleman considered the contracts handed out to both Pierre-Paul and Harrison as onerous, and Vacchiano adds neither Pro Bowl player was viewed as a plus locker room presence. That said, the Giants have one of the least talented defenses in the NFL, boasting deficiencies at nearly every spot going into free agency. It would seem that would be where Gettleman looks to improve in the next two months.

Here is more out of the Big Apple and the latest from the NFC East:

  • While the Giants already have two monster contracts on their offensive line now, having acquired Kevin Zeitler‘s $12MM-AAV deal, they are going to pursue a right tackle in free agency. Big Blue will “almost certainly” add a right tackle on the market, per Vacchiano, who adds former Gettleman draftee Daryl Williams may be a top target. Williams was a fourth-round Gettleman pick in 2015 but is coming off an injury-nullified season. The Giants tried to sign former Gettleman find Andrew Norwell last year, so Williams will be a name to monitor in the coming days.
  • Sean Lee‘s Cowboys restructure will slash his 2019 salary from $7MM to $3.5MM, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Although Lee has seen younger linebackers replace him as Dallas’ go-to second-level defenders, the Cowboys will keep the veteran around. One season remains on Lee’s contract.
  • If the Raiders are now the team to beat regarding Antonio Brown, the Eagles should not be completely discounted. Philadelphia is the other destination CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora is hearing in the Brown sweepstakes as of Saturday (Twitter link). The Eagles have been hard at work clearing cap space; they are north of $24MM now — before Michael Bennett‘s $6.2MM salary comes off their books. It would be interesting to see the team clear so much off its roster to add a player who has produced so much drama, but the Eagles have not been averse to splash moves in recent years.
  • Connected to a safety upgrade for many months, the Cowboys may opt to seek second-tier options at this position. Extensions for their homegrown standouts may price the Cowboys out of the high-end safeties on this year’s market, Josina Anderson of ESPN.com tweets. The Cowboys remain connected to Earl Thomas, and Richard Sherman said recently his former teammate would choose Dallas if the offers were equal. Another report confirmed no discount was coming. But they may well not end up being equal, complicating this long-rumored partnership. But plenty of safety help will be available next week.

Sean Lee Will Return To Cowboys In 2019, Working On New Contract

We heard recently that the Cowboys were interested in bringing back linebacker Sean Lee for one more season, and now it’s official. Lee and the Cowboys have agreed to stick together for 2019, and are ironing out the details on what his contract will look like, sources told David Moore of The Dallas Morning News

Lee is a Cowboys legend, and it was looking for a while like his time with the team might be coming to an end toward the end of the 2018 season. But Lee expressed interest in playing again, and the team is willing to make it happen. Lee has been unable to stay on the field the past few years, as he’s dealt with recurring hamstring issues and other ailments.

Moore thinks the incentive-heavy deal the Cowboys just gave Jason Witten will “provide a template” for the deal Lee will get once his contract is restructured. Lee was schedule to make a non-guaranteed $7MM this season, which was always going to be untenable.

Lee saw his playing time scaled back dramatically this season even when he was healthy, as rookie Leighton Vander Esch emerged. Lee has spent all nine years of his career with Dallas, and will be making it a tenth now. He’ll likely function as somewhat of a player-coach in a veteran mentor role for the 2019 season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Saints, Giants, Eagles, Cowboys

The Saints have had a relatively quiet offseason ever since their season ended in devastating fashion in the NFC Championship game. That’s about to change though, as they have several big decisions to make in the coming days and weeks. Mark Ingram is set to be a free agent, and there’s been a lot of talk that the Saints might move on and choose to give Alvin Kamara more of a featured role. Ingram “wants nothing more than to strike a deal to stay in New Orleans,” writes Larry Holder of The Athletic. Holder also writes that head coach Sean Payton wants to keep him around. Holder points out that Ingram doesn’t have the typical wear and tear a 30-year-old running back usually has, because he’s usually split time in whatever backfield the Saints have put together throughout his career.

The Saints also lacked consistent options in the passing game beyond Michael Thomas last year, and could be looking to add a receiver. Sources told Holder that “Someone like Adam Humphries intrigues the Saints.” Holder thinks Humphries might get priced out of their range though, and that New Orleans might end up turning to the draft to add receiver help. Multiple sources also told Holder the Saints aren’t interested in adding Antonio Brown.

Here’s more from around the NFC:

  • There’s been a ton of discussion about the Giants’ quarterback situation, but not a lot has been written about Kyle Lauletta. Lauletta was the Giants’ highly-touted fourth round pick last year, but was relegated to third-string duties behind Manning and Alex Tanney for much of the season. The Giants re-signed Tanney earlier today, which could bode poorly for Lauletta. Lauletta also underwent knee surgery this offseason, sources told Ryan Dunleavy of NJ.com. Dunleavy isn’t bullish on Lauletta’s future with the team, and writes that he’s already shown he isn’t “capable of challenging Manning.” Lauletta only attempted five passes this past year, completing zero and throwing an interception. With the Giants a definitely possibility to draft a quarterback high in this April’s draft, Lauletta could prove to be a one-and-done in the Big Apple.
  •  The Eagles extended guard Isaac Seumalo earlier today, and they might not be done locking up offensive linemen. The “expectation” is that Philly “will attempt to extend OL Halapoulivaati Vaitai this offseason”, according to Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer (Twitter link). Vaitai was the Eagles’ fifth round pick in 2016, and has been a backup tackle for them ever since. In 2017, he filled in for Jason Peters at left tackle and started the entire second half of the season plus the playoffs. Peters is 37 now, and his status for 2019 is still unclear. It’s very possible that the Eagles view Vaitai as the successor to Peters on Carson Wentz‘s blindside.
  • “When the 2018 season ended there was an expectation that Sean Lee would not return to Dallas,” writes Calvin Watkins of The Athletic. But now things appear to be shifting in the direction of the veteran linebacker returning for one more season in a reduced role, Watkins notes. Lee wants to play again and is willing to accept less playing time, according to Watkins, and Cowboys EVP Stephen Jones sounded open to the idea of bringing him back. “When he has played, he has played really well. He’s had a big impact on our football team, not only what he’s doing on the field, but off the field with his leadership,” Jones said. In the same piece, Watkins also took a look at the looming contract negotiations between Dallas and Ezekiel Elliott. Watkins thinks that Elliott “will probably get at least $50 million guaranteed”, topping the $45MM guaranteed Todd Gurley received from the Rams.

Cowboys Hope To Retain Sean Lee

Jason Garrett praised Sean Lee‘s work last season, one that featured younger linebackers playing a bigger role on Dallas’ defense than the veteran stalwart did. Garrett wants the Cowboys to retain Lee.

Nobody works harder than Sean Lee, but unfortunately durability has been an issue,” Garrett said, via Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk. “That was a big reason we drafted these young linebackers the last couple of years because Sean has missed time. But when he has played, he has played really well. … He’s got a lot of football left in him and he’ll be a part of what we’re doing going forward.”

Lee, though, will almost certainly have to accept a sizable pay cut to see a 10th season in Dallas. This Cowboys offseason will be primarily about how they proceed with their extension-eligible young talents, and Lee’s $10MM cap number is now untenable. Dallas would save $7MM by releasing the two-time Pro Bowler, who will turn 33 before Week 1.

Hamstring injuries limited Lee to just seven games last season, and Leighton Vander Esch delivered immediately when called upon. He and Jaylon Smith are the Cowboys’ top linebackers for 2019, and both are on rookie deals.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cowboys’ Sean Lee To Play In 2019

Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee expects to play in 2019, according to a source who spoke with Calvin Watkins of The Athletic (on Twitter). This jibes with an earlier report that Lee was leaning towards returning for the ’19 campaign

Lee is scheduled to make $7MM in base salary, so it’s not a certainty that the Cowboys will have him back. But, at least from Lee’s end, he feels certain about wanting to move forward in football. After the end of the ’18 season, the veteran said he’d discuss his future with his family before making a determination.

I want to continue to play the game, but I have to evaluate physically where I’m at. I definitely have some decisions to make,” Lee said in January. “I’m leaning toward playing for sure.”

Lee was sensational for the Cowboys earlier in his career and managed four interceptions in both the 2011 and 2013 seasons. He later missed all of 2014 with a torn ACL, but bounced back to earn a Pro Bowl nod in 2015 and had a Pro Bowl/First-Team All-Pro season in 2016.

Thanks to hamstring injuries, Lee appeared in only seven games in 2018 and was leapfrogged by rookie Leighton Vander Esch. If he comes back to Dallas, he’ll be looking at a smaller role than what he has enjoyed in years past. He may also have to take a pay cut in order to stay.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cowboys’ Sean Lee Leaning Towards Return

After several injury-plagued seasons in the NFL, no one would fault Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee if he were to call it a career. However, at this time, Lee says that he’s leaning towards a return in 2019 (via David Moore of the Dallas News). 

I want to continue to play the game, but I have to evaluate physically where I’m at. I definitely have some decisions to make,” Lee said. “I’m leaning toward playing for sure.”

Staying on the field has long been an issue for Lee. Thanks to hamstring injuries, Lee appeared in only seven games in 2018 and was eventually eclipsed by rookie Leighton Vander Esch. The veteran finished out with a career-low 37 tackles and had just half a sack.

Lee was sensational for the Cowboys earlier in his career and still provides veteran leadership to the defense, so it won’t be an easy call for the team. Lee managed four interceptions in both the 2011 and 2013 seasons. He missed all of 2014 with a torn ACL, but bounced back to earn a Pro Bowl nod in 2015 and had a Pro Bowl/First-Team All-Pro season in 2016.

Lee, 33 in July, is under contract for one more season at a $10.075MM cap figure. The Cowboys can save $7MM by releasing him against just $3.075MM in dead money.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

East Notes: Brady, Flores, Cowboys

The knee injury that Patriots QB Tom Brady has been battling this season is an MCL sprain, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, who reports that Brady sustained the injury when going out for a pass against Tennessee on November 11. However, Brady has no structural damage, and Rapoport says the 41-year-old will head into today’s playoff game as healthy as he has been since the start of the season. He will likely not require any offseason procedures.

Let’s round up a few more east-related rumors:

  • The Dolphins are simply waiting for the Patriots‘ season to end so that they can finalize a deal with New England de facto defensive coordinator Brian Flores to become their next head coach, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com. No one anticipates this turning into another Josh McDaniels situation, and Flores is fully expected to join Miami. Schefter also says that Miami is already planning its rebuild and is looking to the 2020 crop of rookie QBs, which is expected to include Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert.
  • Albert Breer of SI.com names Patriots defensive line coach Brendan Daly as a potential replacement for Flores on New England’s staff, while Mike Reiss of ESPN.com sees former Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano — who was rumored to be a candidate for the Pats’ DC job last year following Matt Patricia‘s departure — as a logical choice. Rapoport (video link) agrees with Reiss.
  • Dolphins LB coach Frank Bush is expected to follow Adam Gase to the Jets, and while DL coach Kris Kocurek may do the same, Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL Radio says that four to five teams are interested in Kocurek’s services (all Twitter links).
  • Baylor head coach Matt Rhule, whom the Jets reportedly preferred to Gase, confirms that he did not join Gang Green because the team wanted to pick his staff for him. Per Jake Nisse of the New York Post, Rhule said, “[a]t the end of the day, I’m never going to be in an arranged marriage.” 
  • Longtime Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee is technically under contract through 2019, but the club could save $7MM against the cap by cutting him, and given the emergence of quality younger options and Lee’s injury history, it is difficult to imagine that Dallas will bring him back under his current deal. Lee, of course, could retire, and Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News says that the 32-year-old will sit down with his family and make a decision on his football future, though Lee did not provide a timeline for that decision.
  • After the Cowboys‘ playoff loss to the Rams last night, which saw defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli‘s unit get thrashed, Marinelli was unwilling to address speculation that he could step into an advisory role while Kris Richard takes over as DC. Per Kate Hairopoulos of the Dallas Morning News, Marinelli said, “[w]hy do people keep asking me the same question? I can’t figure it out? Can somebody tell me why everybody asks me that?”

NFC Notes: Lauletta, Lee, Cards, Koetter

We learned earlier today that Eli Manning is increasingly likely to remain with the Giants in 2019, and the fact that New York does not presently have a legitimate replacement on its roster is a big reason for that. Indeed, although the team selected Kyle Lauletta in the 2018 draft and repeatedly indicated it wanted to give him some game action this year, Lauletta’s first appearance in a regular season NFL game — during garbage time in last week’s blowout win over the Redskins — did not go well. Lauletta has now been demoted to the team’s No. 3 QB, where he spent most of the season, and he is inactive for the club’s game today. As Ryan Dunleavy of NJ.com suggests, that move speaks volumes about where Lauletta is in his development.

Let’s round up a few more NFC items as the Week 15 early afternoon games get underway:

  • Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee is active today for the first time since November 5 and will play a reserve role behind rookie phenomenon Leighton Vander Esch, per Todd Archer of ESPN.com (via Twitter). Lee still provides value when healthy, but Jane Slater of the NFL Network tweets that Lee told the team he did not want to start and interfere with Vander Esch’s progress. It remains to be seen how Lee will be deployed moving forward.
  • At the beginning of this month, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network said the Cardinals were going to reassess their front office and coaching staff at the end of the season, and Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reaffirms that report today. JLC writes that Arizona is mulling sweeping changes, and some sources say it would be a “major surprise” if first-year head coach Steve Wilks keeps his job. The bigger question, according to those sources, is whether GM Steve Keim is retained, but if he is not, he is a strong candidate to join the Raiders‘ front office.
  • The Buccaneers are expected to move on from head coach Dirk Koetter at the end of the season, but La Canfora writes that Koetter is still highly-respected as an offensive coordinator and plenty of teams with OC vacancies this offseason will be pursuing him to fill that role. Koetter’s own OC in Tampa, Todd Monken, will also be a highly-coveted offensive coordinator candidate in 2019 assuming the Bucs cut ties with him.
  • The Eagles remain committed to Carson Wentz, and Nick Foles is expected to hit free agency in 2019.
  • Jay Gruden‘s future with the Redskins is uncertain, but Alex Smith is out of the hospital and there is optimism that he will be able to resume his playing career.

NFC East Rumors: Redskins, Cowboys, Eagles

Redskins quarterback Alex Smith is currently battling a leg infection in his broken fibula and tibia, but he’s still optimistic about resuming his playing career, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). Doctors are removing tissue to clear the infection, but the issue remains extremely serious. Smith’s broken bone punctured his skin, which can result in increased likelihood of infection even though Smith underwent immediate surgery. Washington is now down to its third quarterback of the season in Mark Sanchez, as No. 2 Colt McCoy is also done for the year after suffering a fractured fibula of his own.

Here’s more from the NFC East:

  • Although Sean Lee himself has indicated he’ll be ready to play on Sunday, the Cowboys may hold out the veteran linebacker until Week 15, per Rapoport (Twitter link). When he does return, Dallas will need to decide how to divvy up its snaps in the second level of its defense. Lee, of course, is a superstar when on the field, but Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith are both immensely capable, as well. Pro Football Focus grades both Vander Esch and Smith as top-seven linebackers league-wide, and Vander Esch is in consideration for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Given that NFL clubs are using nickel (two-linebacker) packages on more than two-thirds of plays, one of the Cowboys’ ‘backers will have to take a back seat.
  • Although he’s now the Redskinsbackup quarterback, Josh Johnson still intends to play for the Alliance of American Football’s San Diego Fleet in spring 2019, tweets Rapoport. Johnson was protected as the first overall pick in a recent AAF draft, and he’ll suit up when the league begins its season next year. One of several quarterbacks — including Landry Jones and Ryan Mallett — who worked out for Washington after Smith went down, Johnson had the edge given his history with head coach Jay Gruden. He’s the only signal-caller behind Sanchez on the Redskins’ depth chart.
  • The Eagles‘ offensive struggles shouldn’t be blamed on offensive coordinator Mike Groh, argues Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Groh, notably, doesn’t call the plays in Philadelphia, as head coach Doug Pederson holds those duties. The Eagles suffered a major brain drain this offseason, losing both ex-OC Frank Reich to the Colts and ex-QBs coach John DeFilippo to the Vikings, and now rank just 20th in offensive DVOA after finishing eighth a season ago.

Cowboys’ Sean Lee To Miss Several Games

On Tuesday, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett told reporters that linebacker Sean Lee will be sidelined for “a little bit” with a hamstring injury. As it turns out, a “little bit” could turn out to be a long while. Lee’s injury is expected to keep him off the field until December and could push his return into the final weeks of the regular season, David Moore of the Dallas Morning News hears.

Lee is expected to miss the next four to six weeks of action, which means that he will be out until Dec. 9 against the Eagles, at best. At worst, that timeline would keep him out of action until the Bucs game on Dec. 23, the second-to-last game of the regular season.

Lee suffered his injury in the third quarter against the Titans on Monday night while chasing tight end Jonnu Smith on a completed pass. Lee also missed three games earlier this year, meaning that he has missed a total of 13 games due to hamstring issues throughout his career.

The Cowboys stayed afloat without Lee earlier this year thanks to the play of linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. Still, they’re a better defense with Lee on the field.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.