Now that Sean Lee is healthy, the Cowboys want to keep him that way. So after playing every snap for the first 14 games, the weakside linebacker left the field for all of three plays Monday night.
“That’s part of the deal I guess down the stretch,” Lee said. “This is how it is. But yeah, I pride myself on being out there, and I’m trying to be out there as much as I can.”
Lee probably will play even less Sunday against the Eagles. “Twelve snaps?” Lee was asked in the locker room Friday.
“We’ll see how many snaps,” Lee said. “You talk to coach. I’m ready to play a full game and get going.”
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After missing 36 games in his first six seasons with various injuries, Lee stands on the precipice of playing a full, 16-game season for the first time.
“I’ve said in the past I had some issues coming in with my knees,” Lee said. “I also had situations that were freak accidents in games. So it was a combination of luck; it was a combination of maybe improving some things to avoid injuries. Physically finding ways to improve, but I think the injuries in the past were a combination of both, and I think staying healthy is a combination of both.”
Lee already has hit a play-time contract incentive, playing more than 80 percent of the Cowboys’ defensive snaps. That means his base salary increases from $7 million to $9 million next season.
After Lee failed to hit the 80 percent play-time incentive last season, the Cowboys reworked his contract to give him a chance to earn back the $2 million with an additional $2 million in roster bonuses. He earned that, and more, by staying healthy.
“I’m excited that I’ve been able to stay healthy throughout this year and especially being on a team that’s had success,” Lee said. “I’ve been wanting to be part of a team like this. I’ve been wanting to try to stay healthy. That’s been fun. It’s taken a lot of work, and I’ve had a lot of help battling back from injuries, but this has been a dream come true.”
The Cowboys have benefitted from Lee’s presence on the field as he leads the team in tackles with 173.
“He’s just a great football player and really has been since he’s come into the league,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve been around, one of the most instinctive guys and really one of the most productive linebackers I’ve ever seen. He always has an impact in the game, and early on in his career, he had some injury issues, and he always did a great job handling those, doing what he needs to do to get back as quickly as he can. It’s been great to see him the last couple of years stay healthy and his production has been off the charts, his leadership has been off the charts. He’s a great player.”
The Cowboys listed Lee as an inside linebacker on the Pro Bowl ballot, and Carolina’s Luke Kuechly and Seattle’s Bobby Wagner earned the two spots. Kuechly played only 10 games this season because of a concussion.