The last year has seen quite a change within the front seven of the Dallas Cowboys defense. With their first-round draft pick in 2021 the Cowboys wound up selecting Micah Parsons, and shortly after declined the fifth-year option of Leighton Vander Esch making the season a contract year for their most-previous first-round linebacker. This past year was a fine one for Vander Esch, but it didn’t exactly make him the most-coveted linebacker on the open market.
At present time in free agency the Cowboys have struck out in the pass-rushing market. They narrowly missed out on bringing Randy Gregory back and have yet to do anything else besides return Dorance Armstrong. The aforementioned Micah Parsons exists as a top option at the position, but if that is going to be the case then there needs to be more stability at linebacker.
That brings us to where we are now.
The Dallas Cowboys are bringing Leighton Vander Esch back on a one-year deal
We have seen the Cowboys decline only a few fifth-year options before since they became a staple of NFL contracts and one of them was their first-round pick back in 2012, cornerback Morris Claiborne. Incidentally, the team and Claiborne wound up landing on a one-year deal during what would have been Claiborne’s fifth-year option season, a season the cornerback hoped would be a prove-it sort of campaign for him to hit the open market the following season.
It appears as if we are going down that path with yet another first-rounder. Leighton Vander Esch is signing a one-year deal with the team and an added tidbit that Micah Parsons is expected to rush the passer more in 2022.
With Micah Parson set to play a significant number of snaps on the edge rushing the passer, bringing Leighton Vander Esch back to man the middle makes sense. https://t.co/XDgo8EwazR— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 18, 2022
This move is very Cowboys if we are being honest. Vander Esch is “one of their guys” and they obviously trust him so bringing him back over another would-be option like veteran Bobby Wagner always felt like the most likely outcome. You may not like it, but it is how they like to operate.
What’s more is it seems as if the team’s answer to not landing a pass rusher in free agency is to do what many have suggested and look in-house at Micah Parsons; however, as mentioned, if Parsons is going to be devoting more of his time up front then the linebacker spot needs more depth which is where LVE can come into play.
The issue with Vander Esch entering this past season had been the injuries that he suffered in years two and three, but thankfully he was able to play the entire regular season. If he is available, an admitted if, then he is a fine and stable presence in the middle of the team’s defense.
Update: 12:25pm ET
ESPN reported that Leighton’s deal is up to $3M. Obviously that is rather low which means the Cowboys could still be in the mix to add at the position.
Leighton Vander Esch’s deal is up to $3 million, per sources.— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) March 18, 2022
For what it’s worth the fifth-year option that Dallas declined a year ago had a value of $9.1M so the Cowboys obviously played things out well for themselves financially.