Dallas Cowboys

Decision looming: Are the Cowboys going to cut former Pro Bowl LB Sean Lee?

After contemplating retirement over the last month, linebacker Sean Lee has decided he wants to play in 2019.

Now the Dallas Cowboys must decide whether to cut the nine-year veteran or bring him back at a reduced salary.

Lee, 33, certainly won’t return at his $7 million salary for 2019.

The bigger question is what salary can you justify at all to bring back an aging and oft-injured player who has not been on the field for five consecutive games since 2016 and has never played a full season since being taken in the second round in 2010.

He missed nine games in 2018 and six games in 2017 primarily because of hamstring injuries, despite following a plan to try to keep him as healthy as possible. Why would it be any different in 2019?

More pointedly, the former Pro Bowler is no more than a backup in Dallas to rising young linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch.

He played just 7, 22, 4 and 21 snaps in the final four games for the Cowboys after returning from injury last season, including the two playoff games.

The Cowboys could cut his salary to $3 million or less. But even that is possibly too much for a player on minimal snaps who is not guaranteed to be on the field for even half the season, no matter how valuable he is as a mentor to Smith and Vander Esch.

If the Cowboys cut Lee, they could save his entire $7 million salary and add to their more the $50 million in salary cap space for 2019.

There is no question they have other places they could spend the money.

Free agent defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who stands to get at least $20.5 million annually on a multi-year deal, must be brought back. The team is also budgeting for big-money extensions for quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott and receiver Amari Cooper, not to mention the possible pursuit of free agent safety Earl Thomas.

Lee wants to play in 2019 but it may not be with the Cowboys.

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Clarence E. Hill Jr. has covered the Dallas Cowboys as a beat writer/columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 1997. That includes just two playoff wins, six coaches and countless controversies from the demise of the dynasty teams of the 1990s through the rollercoaster years of the Tony Romo era until Jason Garrett’s process Cowboys.