Sean Lee had a team-leading 77 tackles this season, with eight quarterback pressures, one of the team's two interceptions and a forced fumble. But he was even more important to the Cowboys than just his numbers.
He was the defense's leader and its defensive playcaller.
"Injuries are part of the NFL, as you know, in Dallas and 31 other cities," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday. "We’ve had them. Everybody’s had them. You have to deal with them through the season. Sean Lee is an outstanding football player. I can’t tell you how well he’s been playing since he been our starting inside linebacker. He’s the leader of the defense. He makes the calls. He plays the right way in practice. He plays the right way in the game. He defends the run. He defends the pass. He’s a bell cow for us and a guy that really, really everybody on our defense and football team looks up to. He goes about it the right way, and he’s an outstanding person as well. We love everything about him.
"It's obviously unfortunate and disappointing that he had the injury. Initially after the ball game, we thought it might be a 4-6 (week) type injury, but after getting the MRI and the evaluation from the doctors, it was determined we need to have surgery on that and get that done here in the next week or so."
Lee will miss the rest of the season after the Cowboys placed him on injured reserve Wednesday. He will undergo surgery on his right big toe after suffering ligament damage against the Panthers last week.
Lee has a history of injuries dating to his college days at Penn State, when he missed the 2008 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
"He's had injuries in the past, and he’s come back from all of them both in college and here in the NFL," Garrett said. "And he has such an intensity about him. He said, ‘You know, I’m not getting down. I’m ready to go I’m going be part of this football team, and we’re going to get this thing fixed. I’ll be back before you know it.’ So he just has that way about him in everything he does."
Dan Connor will take Lee's spot on the field, and Bruce Carter will become the defensive playcaller. But no one will replace Lee, which is a problem for the Cowboys.
-- Charean Williams