He has battled injuries for a good portion of his pro career, including a core muscle injury that slowed him late last season and finally forced him to have surgery in September, causing him to miss the first seven games.
With Leighton Vander Esch out of Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox), Lee is expected to make his first start of the season in what could be the final game of his career at the only home stadium he has ever known, AT&T Stadium.
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“I really don’t think about it just because the game is so tough,” Lee said. “I’ve always tried to prepare a certain way to where the focus is purely on your opponent on how to make plays on the field and almost trying to be obsessed with that, going over it, rehearsing it constantly throughout the week so when you get in the game you feel comfortable.”
Lee has been credited with 14 tackles in his seven games. With Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith serving as the starters, Lee has been relegated to a backup role, seeing action on 97 snaps on defense.
He has had at least 14 tackles in 21 games in his pro career.
“This is as good as I’ve felt. I feel good,” Lee said. “I’ve gotten better every single week since I’ve gotten back physically, and each week I’ve been able to have more reps at practice, been able to play a little bit more in different games. I feel really good. Hopefully, this week of practice I’ll continue to improve and be able to help in this game.”
Since arriving to the Cowboys as their second-round pick in 2010, Lee has been viewed as a coach on the field. Given the time he has missed, 57 games because of injury, he felt that was his best way to contribute, by helping others. Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan believe Lee would be a fantastic coach whenever he is done playing.
McCarthy and Lee even had a brief discussion about it.
“I mentioned if he is dumb enough to get into coaching, we should definitely talk,” the coach joked. “He would be a great coach. He would be an excellent prospect.”
But Lee, who will be a free agent after the season, doesn’t sound ready to start down that post-playing career path just yet.
“I respect that profession so much, how much they work. Even though I’ve been in it a long time, that is not an easy transition,” Lee said. “It takes a lot of work to go from a player to a coach, and right now, I’m a player through and through. And that’s my focus. I love the game and maybe that comes down the line, but I think about playing and making plays and helping this team.”
Two games remain in the Cowboys’ regular season, and maybe they will be Lee’s final two. Maybe not.
The Cowboys still have a chance of making the playoffs if they win their final two games and the Washington Football Team loses its last two. How Lee feels physically and whether he can still help will play more into Lee’s 2021 decision than if he plays well against the Eagles and New York Giants. He will also sit down with his wife, Megan, to discuss options.
“You kind of go back and forth on things at times as you get older, but the problem is any time I go on the field and I get to play, and you make a couple of plays, you’re like, ‘Well, I like this too much,'” Lee said. “And that is my problem: I love this game too much. I love this organization a lot. And I love playing and I love playing the position, linebacker. I joke to my wife that I’m addicted to it at times.”