We already knew that Sean Lee accepted a drastic pay cut this offseason. We didn’t know the Dallas Cowboys‘ veteran linebacker took it upon himself to slash his salary.
The reasoning for which is quite remarkable.
Appearing Thursday on 105.3 The Fan, Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones explained that Lee approached the organization about a contract reduction — not the other way around — rooted in the emergence of his understudies, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch.
“Sean came to us and he wanted to play and we didn’t even ask [for him to take a pay cut]. He just said look, ‘I want to adjust. I’ve missed a lot. I know you’ve got these two young guys that are going to need to be on the field. I think I can help.’ And that’s exactly what he’s done,” Jones said, via SB Nation. “You just can’t have enough good linebackers in this game. There’s going to be plenty of reps to go around. Joe Thomas figures right in that mix as well, he’s been playing really, really good football for us. You’re just fortunate to have four really starting-caliber linebackers like that and it’s a great asset for our defense.”
It was reported in March that Lee agreed to halve his 2019 salary from $7 million to $3.5 million, freeing salary cap space for a club that signed Smith, right tackle La’el Collins, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and running back Ezekiel Elliott to lucrative extensions prior to the season.
Helping the Cowboys retain key roster talent is one thing. Helping to secure your long-term successors, and enable their success, is quite another.
Admirable doesn’t begin to describe the 33-year-old.
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Lee’s Contract Breakdown
The 2010 second-round draft pick is in the final year of his contract, scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency in March. He’s earning a base salary of $2 million and a roster bonus of $937,500 while counting $6.012 million against Dallas’ salary cap.
Lee can recoup the money he surrendered via tiered playing time incentives: $1 million for 50 percent of the Cowboys’ defensive snaps, $1 million for 65 percent, and $1 million for 80 percent, according to Spotrac. He’ll make an additional $500,00 if he logs 80 percent of snaps and the club qualifies for the playoffs.
Through eight games, Lee has been on the field for 244 (46.04 percent) of the Cowboys’ snaps. He was terrific in Week 9 when he filled in for Vander Esch (neck), leading the team with 12 tackles (nine solo) and a pass breakup.
An aside, for context: Smith inked a six-year, $68.421 million contract extension that includes $35,406,678 in guarantees ($19.006 million guaranteed at signing) and a $11,403,500 average annual salary.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL