DALLAS — The debate on whether injured linebacker Sean Lee will get his job back when he returns has been settled. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones stated unequivocally that the All-Pro linebacker will return to the starting lineup when he is healthy in spite of the play of rookie Leighton Vander Esch.
"Yes," Jones said Tuesday on 105.3 "The Fan" [KRLD-FM].
However, unlike a position such as quarterback or left tackle, which are manned by one player, linebacker spots can be comprised of different packages and formations based upon the down and distance. Therefore, yes, Lee will return to the starting lineup, but the number of snaps Lee gets will be part of a rotation with the existing linebacking corps.
"You'll have a rotation, but certainly with a player of his stature, and you ask, 'Well, has he earned it,'" Jones said.
Though Lee has appeared in just five games this season and produced 27 tackles, 0.5 sacks, a tackle for loss, a pass deflection, and a fumble recovery, he has had a significant impact off the field in the growth of Vander Esch, which manifests in the first-round pick's on-field play.
Said Jones: "I've said the other day that Sean has had as much to do with how Vander Esch has evolved as his coaches have. He's an outstanding individual to have in the room with those linebackers, out on the field with those linebackers, even though he's not playing or practicing. Well, when you get him in the game, he's that much more of a quarterback on the field."
On the season, the Boise State first round pick has collected a team-high 103 combined tackles, two tackles for loss, seven pass deflections, and two interceptions. And the better Vander Esch plays, the more time the team can give Lee in an effort to be fully healthy for a final push for a NFC East title and possibly Super Bowl run.
"We're all going to look at the idea of not rushing him back and having any risk that we don't have to take with the way Vander Esch is playing and the way [Jaylon] Smith is playing," said Jones. "We want to be careful about not getting him back too fast as well."
While Lee's status is still ambivalent for when the Cowboys take on the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday at 3:25 p.m. CST in a rematch that is momentous in how the NFC East concludes, one certainty is that the play from rookie Vander Esch affords them the luxury, even in a high stakes divisional bout, to let the veteran fully recover.
Should Sean Lee step back into the lineup when he's ready or has Leighton Vander Esch earned the snaps? Share your opinion on the subject with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.