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Cowboys free agent profile 2023: Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch

Did the veteran linebacker do enough to earn himself a long-term contract?

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NFL: NFC Divisional Round-Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Today we continue our 2023 Dallas Cowboys free agency profile series. Our next profile features out first defensive player of the series, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.

NFL: Houston Texans at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

2022 Regular Season Stats: 14G, 90 total tackles, 54 solo, 4 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 1 FF

Year Review: In the spring of 2021, Leighton Vander Esch bet on himself. The now 27-year-old linebacker signed a one-year, $2M deal to return to Dallas and potentially boost his stock before hitting the open market again the following spring.

Vander Esch did just that this season. Healthy enough to play in 14 or more games for just the second time in his career, had a very solid year. Vander Esch recorded 90 total tackles, 54 solo, 33 stops, and 4 TFL. Vander Esch’s Pro Football Focus defensive grade of 73.1 was by-far his highest mark since his rookie year back in 2018.

The move to bring back Vander Esch proved to be a good one as the linebacker played a key role in Dallas’ overall success as a defense. The unit as a whole looked much more in sync and overall played much better when he was on the field.

Free Agency Outlook: Betting on yourself does not always work out, but for Vander Esch the move certainly did. The linebacker would have likely been looking at a one or two-year deal if he departed Dallas after last season, but his performance in 2022 will most likely earn him a long-term deal wherever he lands.

Pro Football Focus projects Vander Esch to earn a three-year, $20M deal on the open market this spring.

Final Verdict: When it comes to potentially retaining Vander Esch, the Cowboys have a tough decision to make. Losing the linebacker would certainly hurt their defense, but giving a guy who has dealt with plenty of injury issues over the course of his career a long-term deal might not be the best move.

Ultimately, Vander Esch returning to Dallas or not will come down to how much teams value him on the open market. The Cowboys are going to stick to the number they believe Vander Esch is worth and hope that he does not get an offer above that and decides to come back.

In the end, all it takes is one team to offer him more than Dallas and I think there’s a pretty good chance we see that happen.

Prediction: Leighton Vander Esch signs a three-year deal with the New England Patriots

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