There was another Cowboys player who has gone down the path that Leighton Vander Esch is currently navigating, and that was cornerback Morris Claiborne. Since the inception of the 2011 CBA and the introduction of the fifth-year option for rookie contracts, Claiborne and Vander Esch are the lone two who have not had their option picked up by the Dallas Cowboys. Interestingly enough, the team was able to bring them both back on one-year, prove-it deals during what would have been their option season.
Part of what was frustrating about Claiborne when Dallas had to make the option decision on him (after a player’s third season) was how much time he had missed to that point in his career. A year ago the Cowboys had seen Vander Esch play just 19 games between the 2019 and 2020 seasons, a data point that added to the justification of Dallas selecting Micah Parsons in the first round last year.
The Dallas Cowboys are counting on Leighton Vander Esch for a lot in 2022
Things were set up very awkwardly for Vander Esch a season ago. The team declined his fifth-year option just days after selecting Parsons which was a huge signal that the LVE era in Dallas was coming to a close.
To Vander Esch’s credit, though, he managed to put forth an impressive season for the team last year. He finished with his second-best defensive grade by PFF’s standards across a season falling just behind his stellar rookie campaign of 2018.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Vander Esch a season ago was that he managed to play the entire regular season which was longer than ever at 17 games. Counting the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, he played 18 games last season alone when he played 19 between the previous two seasons combined.
If Vander Esch is unable to sustain his health in 2022 then the Cowboys are going to be up the proverbial creek. Micah Parsons is a unicorn and raises the floor of wherever he is lining up, but part of what makes him special is his versatility and mobility. If Vander Esch were to be out for some time, and Parsons were to float up to rush the passer, then the Cowboys would be dealing with a group that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
The Cowboys are also partly counting on Jabril Cox returning from injury in 2022 and taking a legitimate step towards giving Micah Parsons another solid running-mate in the middle of Dan Quinn’s defense. It is also worth mentioning that Jayron Kearse plays down at linebacker a lot as well. This is hardly a house built out of straw, but the overall point here is that Vander Esch’s presence within the defense is pretty important.
We discussed the Cowboys linebackers as a whole in the latest installment of our Training Camp Preview series on the Blogging The Boys YouTube Channel. Make sure to subscribe to our channel (which you can do right here) so you don’t miss any of our videos!