Lee gets elite money; Cowboys get insurance

The Cowboys are committed to paying Sean Lee like an elite inside linebacker if he can stay healthy.

Lee’s new contract comes with some injury insurance, however.

That makes it a win-win deal.

It’s a six-year, $42 million contract that could be worth up to an additional $9 million if Lee hits playing time incentives, a source told ESPNDallas.com’s Todd Archer. The deal includes $16.13 million in guaranteed money.

Compare that to the contracts of the San Francisco 49ers’ spectacular inside linebacker tandem. Patrick Willis signed a seven-year deal worth $53.5 million with $29 million guaranteed in 2010. Navorro Bowman’s deal signed in 2012 is worth $46.4 million over seven years with $25.5 million guaranteed.

If Lee can avoid the injury bug, there is little question that he’ll be in that class of linebackers.

However, the harsh reality is that Lee has missed 13 games in three NFL seasons, including 10 last year when he suffered a season-ending toe injury. He slipped into the second round of the 2010 draft due to concerns about a devastating knee injury he suffered at Penn State, but he has proved to have made a complete recovery from that torn ACL, which is unrelated to any of the ailments he’s suffered as a pro.

The Cowboys weren’t willing to let Lee leave Dallas after his rookie deal expired at the end of the season. Their options were to give him a lucrative extension or use the franchise tag on him, as they’ve done with Anthony Spencer the past two seasons.

This is no more expensive and much more cap-friendly than tagging Lee for the next couple of seasons.

Lee’s willingness to sign a contract that protects the team if he can’t stay on the field made the decision easy for the Cowboys, who hope to build their defense around a healthy, dominant middle linebacker for years to come.