It's the end of yet another era for the Dallas Cowboys in 2021, having already decided to . This time, the decision wasn't theirs, but instead belonged to linebacker Sean Lee -- who had been considering retirement since the close of a disappointing finish to the 2020 season. Just days ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft, Lee has made the decision to call it a career, a source confirmed to CBS Sports, ending his NFL run after 11 seasons.
This does not necessarily mean he's done in Dallas, however, with a separate source noting the team would be open to carving out a role on the defensive coaching staff if Lee is interested and doesn't want to take some time away from the game before transitioning to his next chapter. Considering how competitive Lee continues to be, it's certainly a situation to watch.
In hanging up his cleats for good, Lee has a message for the Cowboys and their fan faithful -- via a team press release.
"To my teammates, I love you like brothers. The bond of our shared sacrifice will last forever. I'll miss the brotherhood, but will cherish the memories from the locker room following all the big wins and tough losses.
"To the athletic training staff, Lord knows you earned your money working with me. But I couldn't have made it through my injuries without you. Britt Brown, thank you for pushing me as far as you did.
"To the fans, you lifted me up when I needed it most. I didn't want to let you down. If there's a regret, it's that I never helped bring a championship back home, because you deserve it so much. To my family, you have always been my foundation. I love and cherish all of you. I couldn't have done anything without your support. Mom and Dad, you showed me the right way, giving me every opportunity to succeed. To my brother and sister, I looked to both of you for inspiration. To my in-laws, thanks for all your love and support.
"To my wife, Megan, I love you dearly. You were there for every injury, every bad game. I never would have persevered without your support. To the game of football, it changed my life. Whenever I'm near a field, the smell brings me back to when I first started playing, putting on a helmet, trying on those shoulder pads, that perfect tackle. To think of the journey now, experiencing things I never thought possible with the men and women who make this game what it is, I'm beyond grateful.
"Thank you, Cowboys Nation. It's been my honor."
He also joins defensive linemanand, additionally, the move has no impact on the Cowboys draft board -- sources say.
Lee's talent was undeniable when he got the nod as the team's second-round pick out of Penn State in 2010. He went on to earn two Pro Bowl honors and a nod as a first-team All-Pro, but his career was marred with injury that likely prevented him from becoming one of the best to ever wear the uniform. He missed 10 regular-season games in his third season and five in the next, only to then miss the entirety of a special 2014 campaign due to a torn ACL.
He'd return to be mostly durable over the next three years, but again missed significant time in 2018 before bouncing back and having a career season for the Cowboys in 2019 -- a shining moment that reminded all of what Lee could be when healthy.
Unfortunately, the injury bug would bite him yet again in 2020, when he was placed on injured reserve with a sports hernia after re-signing with the team on a one-year deal. The 34-year-old was available for only nine games last season and logged just two starts, facing him with yet another offseason to consider if his time as a player had truly come to an end. And now that he's decided it has, the only question that remains is will he stay on the sidelines to coach up those who came and will come after him.
Lee finishes his NFL career with 802 combined tackles, 30 passes defensed and 14 interceptions in 118 games played.