Cowboys owner Jerry Jones finally gets one right with Sean Lee

Posted Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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lebreton Far be it for us to tell Jerry Jones how to spend his money.

$25 million for team-wrecker Terrell Owens?

$6 million for kicker Mike Vanderjagt?

$3 million for a young, red-headed offensive coordinator before Owner Jones had even hired the head coach?

But this one Jerry got right.

Jones signed middle linebacker Sean Lee to a six-year, $42 million contract extension Wednesday, firmly making a statement about who the Dallas Cowboys expect to lead their defense for the foreseeable future. A reported $16.1 million of the new contract is guaranteed.

Who doesn’t like Lee? He’s passionate about his profession. Smart. Productive on the football field. Versatile. Willing to do the things that can help him and the Cowboys be successful.

The only lingering negative was addressed Wednesday by Lee himself. Interviewed on the team’s website, Lee talked about the setbacks he’s endured in his football career.

“Obviously, I’ve had injuries,” he said, “and I’ve said that I need to find a way to stay on the field.”

Lee’s new deal, however, addresses those concerns. By playing at least 80 percent of the Cowboys’ defensive snaps in future seasons, Lee can earn an additional $9 million.

The 27-year-old Penn State product called the contract “extremely fair.”

Applause is in order for Lee and his agent, Mike McCartney, for acknowledging the injury risks involved. So many other NFL agents seem to negotiate from the position that their clients are — for lack of a less sensitive term — bullet-proof.

In lieu of a cleverly constructed contract, agents expect the team to assume all the injury risk. What do they think this is — baseball?

If Lee is able to stay on the field, however, his total contract could total more than $51 million, which wouldn’t make him the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL but would place him on the same general pay plateau as San Francisco’s Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.

And if Lee does play at least 80 percent of the Cowboys’ defensive snaps over the next three seasons, who’s to argue that he wouldn’t be worth that?

That’s what his contract seems to be saying.

For Owner Jones, this speaks new and enlightened volumes. All too often, Jerry has dug the franchise into a hole by prematurely rewarding a Cowboy for performances both real and imagined.

Marion Barber, for example. Though Barber wasn’t even the starter, Jones lavished the running back with a seven-year, $45 million contract after the 2007 season.

Barber fumbled seven times in 2008. Three years later his rushing average was down to 3.3 yards a carry. Five years later he was out of pro football.

The original Miles Austin contract — seven years, $54 million — seems similarly wildly optimistic in hindsight. The Jay Ratliff deal — seven years, $48.6 million to a 30-year-old defensive lineman — has been called one of the league’s worst.

And then there is the much-discussed Tony Romo deal, a contract that literally could cripple the franchise for the rest of Jones’ life — or give him one more ride to glory.

Injuries remain a delicate subject, especially in a league trying to cover its tracks on concussions. In Lee’s case, he tore an ACL at Penn State, pulled a hamstring and dislocated his wrist in his first two seasons with the Cowboys, and missed 10 games last season with torn ligaments in a big toe.

To me, he’s been more unfortunate than injury prone.

Lee’s role, however, as well as his monetary worth, have now been clearly defined. As the Cowboys transition to a new defense, they’ve found their leader.

Who doesn’t like Sean Lee?

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton

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