A little over two weeks ago, the Dallas Cowboys made the biggest splash of the NFL season with the addition of veteran linebacker Sean Lee to the roster.
A week later, they brought in the first ever female defensive player on the roster, linebacker Erin Henderson.
Now, Lee and Henderson are not only the first NFL players to sign female contracts, they are the first to be paid in full for the work they’ve done.
“The first lady came up to me and said, ‘I’m so proud of you, you’re the first one to ever be paid for your work,’ ” Lee said.
“I thought it was kind of funny.
I thought it meant something.
I don’t think it’s a huge deal to me.”
The story of how the two new faces became part of the Cowboys’ team is a little more complicated.
Henderson had already been a player since 2012 and had signed her rookie deal before the draft in March, but Lee was drafted in the second round by the Houston Texans and was signed to a two-year, $2.5 million contract in September of 2017.
She signed with the Cowboys as a free agent in May and began playing in preseason games on the field for the first time.
She started playing for Dallas in Week 1 and started all 16 games during the first month of the season.
After a couple of weeks, Lee started making the field more often, playing every snap and even starting some special teams plays.
Then in October, she got hurt and had surgery on her right knee.
Her surgery, which she underwent at Mayo Clinic, took a week and a half to get to.
It was also a major setback for the Dallas offense, as Lee’s versatility meant she had to start playing in some different roles, which was tough for a rookie.
“That was really tough on her, because she was starting every game,” Cowboys running back Joseph Randle said.
“[She was] not only starting, but starting every snap,” Randle added.
“So when she got injured, it was tough.
But she was a great teammate and a great player.”
That wasn’t to say that Henderson didn’t have a good year for the Cowboys.
She finished with 59 tackles, seven pass breakups, three interceptions and one fumble recovery.
But that’s not to say she wasn’t struggling in 2017.
In fact, her production dropped from 2017 to 2016, when she played in only 11 games, due to injuries.
She was still able to catch passes for touchdowns on a team that ranked dead last in passing yards and points allowed.
“It’s a tough year to be a player in the NFL, but I think I played a lot better in 2017 than I did in 2016,” Henderson said.
Henderson was also an important part of Dallas’ playoff run in 2017, with her contributions on special teams helping the Cowboys reach the Super Bowl.
She had two tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble in the Dallas’ Super Bowl LI victory over the New England Patriots.
Her first interception came on the final play of the game.
But Henderson also caught five passes for 64 yards and scored on the Cowboys second drive of the overtime win, the first score of the year.
“She’s the one that I think had a big impact,” Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said.
But even if Henderson was a huge part of 2017, she wasn’t the only one who made a difference. “
This is a tough time for everybody, but for her, it’s really special to have a great season, to be able to do what you love to do and not have a lot of expectations, but to do a lot.”
But even if Henderson was a huge part of 2017, she wasn’t the only one who made a difference.
For all of her success on the football field, Henderson was an extremely shy and introverted person, according to Randle.
She never really had friends and never really talked to anyone in the team.
She also didn’t really socialize with the other women on the team, and the only time she spoke with them was during games.
But Randle believes Henderson was not only one of the most dominant players in her rookie season, but also the best of her teammates.
“If I could be one of them, she would be the first person to tell me how good of a teammate she is,” Randles said.