The Off-Season. Where football fans cross fingers and pray that their respective teams remain entirely healthy for the start of the regular season.
With 99 Days left until kickoff in September, every franchise deals with injuries. It's part of the sport.
For the Dallas Cowboys and the entire "America's Team" fandom, terrible news surfaced on Monday when reports came crashing down that starting MLB Sean Lee suffered a torn ACL during an OTA (Organized Team Activity) workout.
In a non-contact drill, Lee was covering his assignment on a basic halfback screen play where his leg gave out on him. His season is essentially over. 8-12 month rehabilitation and the first domino has fallen in the NFC East.
Lee, 27 is the cornerstone of the Dallas defense. He possesses great athleticism and is a true difference maker when on the field.
The problem is, Lee is never ON the field for the Cowboys. He has only played in 15 of the last 32 games played for Dallas (two seasons). That's less than half.
Various ailments have hampered the Penn State grad who signed a lucrative contract extension last off-season at the tune of 7 years for $ 42.6 million dollars with $ 16 million guaranteed. That's big-time money for a middle linebacker who has never been able to play a full-season in his four year tenure in Dallas.
Does this completely damper any chance of the Cowboys competing for the NFC East crown in 2014? It certainly doesn't help.
The Cowboys have had a less than stellar off-season. Stuck in mediocrity for nearly a decade, the 'Boys have failed to reach the playoffs in each of the last three seasons with losses to NFC East rivals in Week 17 Win-or-go-home showdowns. (NYG in '11, WAS in '12, PHI in '13)
Add to the fact that the 'Boys have been hamstrung by a cap imposed penalty from the league over the past two seasons and lucrative contracts given out to the likes of Lee and star QB Tony Romo and things could be mighty bleak in Big D' in 2014.
The 'Boys were non-players in free agency making minor signings in defensive lineman Henry Melton and Jeremy Mincey. That won't be enough in the most competitive division in football. The NFC BEAST.
Gone are the likes of defensive stalwart DE Jason Hatcher (Washington), and All-pro/future hall of fame LB Demarcus Ware who bolted for greener pastures in Denver with a chance to win a championship with Peyton Manning. (The Cowboys tried to address this in the '14 Draft by selecting Demarcus Lawrence, a pass rusher out of Boise State).
The Cowboys defense struggled embarrassingly in 2013. Ranking 26th in points allowed and 30th in both pass and rush yards allowed per game, the news of Lee's injury certainly is a cause of major concern.
He is the quarterback of the defense, he makes the calls. He is the leader. As Cowboys' fans know, as goes Sean Lee so does the defense. Without him, the defense has struggled since his arrival in 2010.
How do the 'Boys replace a talented LB such as Lee, well they honestly can't. At least right now...
Replacements in the free agent pool look shallow such as LB Pat Angerer (Colts) and LB Jonathan Vilma (Saints) who have already been speculated as possible additions to fill the middle linebacker void for Jerry Jones and Co. Both carry huge injury risks and probably will not come close to the production level Lee would have given the Dallas' defense.
So the off-season will continue, as time waits for no one. The somber mood in Dallas will soon strike elsewhere when news of another season-ending injury in meaningless pre-season work haunts another franchise. It's the nature of the most violent game on the planet and there's nothing we, me or you can do anything about.