Thoughts on Sean Lee’s $42 Million Dollar Extension


Per his agent Mike McCartney, Sean Lee has signed a six year extension with the Dallas Cowboys. According to multiple sources the contract is worth anywhere from $42 to $51 million dollars depending on playing time.  That would put Lee, at the low end, at the same value as the Dolphins’ Dannell Ellerbe. If he hits his playtime escalators, reported by Albert Breer to be at 80% defensive playtime, his value jumps to just below that of the 49ers’ NaVorro Bowman.

Andrew Brandt has tweeted out the initial cash flows of the contract which are very strong for Lee. Lee will earn $10 million in new money in 2013 and what seems to be another $5.5 million in 2014. That money will be guaranteed, along with his $630,000 salary already on the books for this season. Both are important numbers for Lee. If fully guaranteed, which they likely are, the contract contains more guaranteed money than all of the second tier inside linebackers, which capped out at $14 million for Ellerbe and D’Qwell Jackson of the Browns.

Because the contract extension technically does not start until 2014, the one year takehome for Lee would be considered to be $15.5 million which is a strong contract in a time when teams are often pulling back. The two year payout would be $18.02 million if no escalators are reached. Jackson earned $16.8 million over two years and Ellerbe $14.05 million.

Lee should receive a $10 million dollar signing bonus which would make his cap charge in 2013 rise by only $2 million. His new salary cap figure should be (though this is not confirmed) $2.93 million in 2013. Dallas had about $8 million in cap room prior to the extension so a $2 million dollar raise should not impact the Cowboys decision making in 2013 in regards to the cap.

If given that signing bonus, Lee’s cap charge in 2014 will most likely be $7.5 million. Dallas rarely includes option bonuses so the reported second year cash flow should be in the form of P5 salary. Like most Cowboys contract extensions I never read into the second year cap total. As is standard for the Cowboys there are many additional years at the end of the contract which are placeholders for eventual restructures of the contract to make them more salary cap friendly. It is probably reasonable to view Lee’s cap charge to be $3.684 million after reducing his salary to the league minimum and prorating the remainder.

Such cap charges are significantly better than the alternative of applying the franchise tag on Lee. With a low third year salary Dallas should not have to worry about salary cap charges for some time with him, making it a very good signing for a team that has a reputation of doing a poor job with the financials for their team. The fact that the escalators are legit at 80% just further strengthens the need for performance from Lee. If Lee’s play was to drop off significantly this season Dallas does have outs in the contract to escape by 2015, not often the case in their contracts.

When full details come in I’ll do a better comparison with some of the other relevant contracts, but for now it looks like a solid contract for both sides.

EDIT: Per Todd Archer of ESPN the breakdown of the contract is exactly what described above. He has a full breakdown of the contract on ESPN. 

Based on that information I have updated Lee’s contract page.