Kenny Decker

No Excuses: Sean Lee Has To Be Replaced

Jun 01, 2014 5:00 AM EST

The discomforting feeling of having LB Sean Lee absent in the Dallas Cowboys defensive unit will become all too familiar once again this season. After suffering a torn ACL in Cowboys OTAs, Lee will likely miss the entire upcoming NFL season.

Lee is easily the Cowboys’ strongest defensive player, and after losing veterans DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher to free agency, Dallas was hoping to rely on Lee even more heavily as a defensive leader. Lee has been injury prone throughout his career, but given his improvement year after year, Dallas had high hopes for Lee this season. And to lose him in May for the entire season is a near catastrophe for the NFL’s worst defense in 2013.

There’s no easy way to replace the best defensive player on any football team, but few teams rely on one single player more than Dallas relies on Lee. He calls the plays on defense, makes plays in the backfield, and drops into coverage and picks off passes, just to name a few of the assets he provides. With some injuries, players heal quicker than others and beat the projected timetable for a return — but it’s a different story with ACL tears. Rushing back from such an injury could end a career. Given Lee’s importance to Dallas, don’t expect them to take any chances on his future.

With opening weekend just over three months away, crisis mode begins. That’s plenty of time to replace any positional player, but replacing Lee is no simple task. However, Dallas does have some experience in this department. Lee has missed significant time due to injuries, and Dallas has been forced to adjust in just a few days. Now with a few months, they should be able to come up with a plan that still allows them to compete. When Lee has been injured mid-season, his absence was felt significantly in the games that immediately followed. This should, however, be different.

There’s no denying Lee’s importance and significance on this football team. But this is the NFL, a professional sports league. There’s no room for excuses. Every team faces injuries and every team loses key players. Often, those happen in the midst of a playoff push or even in the playoffs. But this is different. There are more than three months from opening kickoff. The Dallas staff and management have plenty of time to figure this one out. Players will have to step up and take his on-field leadership role.

The defense is in the midst of a big growing process this offseason, so replacing Lee’s play will have to be part of that new process. The new players haven’t been fully developed into the system surrounding Lee, so there’s time to fully develop a strong defense without Lee. Every Dallas player and coach will want Lee to be out there on the field each and every weekend, but they know now that he won’t be. So his absence should not be a reason for them to hang their head or make excuses come September and October.

This defense had work to do before Lee’s injury, and now there’s even more to be done. But no one will want to hear that excuse in the fall. There’s never a good time to lose a key player to injury, but this is about as good of one as you’re going to get.

So the process has begun: Lee has to be replaced come opening Sunday and there are no excuses.