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Cowboys 2023 offseason position breakdown series: Linebackers

A breakdown of the linebackers on the Dallas Cowboys roster. The stats, the cap allocation and projections.

Indianapolis Colts v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The Position Breakdown Series is taking every position group for the Dallas Cowboys and looking at the players, their rankings, contract numbers and predicting the upcoming season for each player.

This edition is looking at the linebackers for Dallas, so let’s get straight to it.

Leighton Vander Esch #55
Age: 27
Experience: 6 years
College: Boise State Broncos

2022 Stats:
Snaps: 882
Tackles: 90
Pressures: 4
Sacks: 3.5
TFL: 12
Defensive Stops: 33
Interceptions: 3
Penalties: 0

2023 Contract:
Cap Cost- $3,161,754 (1.38% Total Cap)
Dead Cap- $5,000,000
Base Salary- $1,500,000
Signing Bonus- $1,250,000

2023 Projection:

Tom - Last year was a redemption season of sorts for LVE. He was second on the team in tackles behind Donovan Wilson, playing in three fewer games, and would probably have been first if he’d not missed those. The middle of the defense is solid with him. The presence of Wilson, Micah Parsons, and Jayron Kearse spreads the load and just makes things more effective for Dan Quinn. Another good season from him will help a lot, and there is no reason to doubt it will happen.

Mike - When the Cowboys didn’t pick up LVE’s fifth-year option I felt sad for him and the situation. It made business sense why they did it, but still a low point for him. The Cowboys did retain him on a one-year prove-it deal, and he proved it. Once he had Johnathan Hankins help keep him clean to flow to the ball carrier the entire season took a heel turn in run defense for both the Cowboys and LVE. The Mazi Smith pick helps the run defense which was smart, but also helps one player above all others, Vander Esch. Even at Boise he was never a guy to take on blocks so this move helps keep him on his toes and using his best traits which are lateral mobility and ability to diagnose plays. With the two big guys up front eating up space and blocks, expect LVE to have even more production this year.

Houston Texans v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images

Damone Clark #33
Age: 23
Experience: 2 years
College: LSU Tigers

2022 Stats:
Snaps: 398
Tackles: 47
Pressures: 3
Sacks: 0
TFL: 1
Defensive Stops: 16
Forced Fumbles: 2
Penalties: 0

2023 Contract:
Cap Cost- $930,638 (0.4% Total Cap)
Dead Cap- $181,914
Base Salary- $870,000
Signing Bonus- $60,638

2023 Projection:

Tom - The Cowboys took him in the draft last year after he fell following an injury discovered by their own medical staff in combine physicals, necessitating surgery. Everyone expected a redshirt year for him. What Dallas got was ten games played, five as a starter, and 47 tackles. Even better, late in the year he began to show just what he could be coming into a season completely healthy. Now he is expected to do that, and the pairing of him with Vander Esch feels really, really good.

Mike - I was one of those guys that wrote the season off for Clark. The fact he came in and helped out on a weak linebacker group last season is nothing short of a miracle. That’s testament to both his hard work and the Cowboys medical staff that do amazing work with these players. A year practicing with the first team and a full training camp puts the arrow pointing directly up for Clark’s second year in the NFL. Expect plenty of work and good levels of production from him pursuing from the weakside position this year.

NFL: DEC 11 Texans at Cowboys Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Jabril Cox #14
Age: 25
Experience: 3 years
College: LSU Tigers

2022 Stats:
Snaps: 221
Tackles: 4
Pressures: 0
Sacks: 0
TFL: 0
Defensive Stops: 0
Penalties: 0

2023 Contract:
Cap Cost- $1,132,813 (0.5% Total Cap)
Dead Cap- $385,626
Base Salary- $940,000
Signing Bonus- $192,813

2023 Projection:

Tom - My expectations for Cox are that he will primarily be a special teams contributor while providing some depth behind LVE and Clark. That may seem unimpressive given that the team used a fourth-round pick to get him in 2021, but he has the opportunity to show more this year, and being a key ST player is not a bad thing at all.

Mike - Some give Michael Gallup benefit of the doubt last year coming off the ACL injury, and that’s justifiable since a player may be medically fine to play after a year rehabbing, but may not be “football ready” for another season. Well, if Gallup gets that reprieve then Cox definitely has to have the same treatment. A lot of Cox’s game is predicated off speed, agility and quick feet. Last year he got all that taken away from him and needed time to recuperate. Now he’s a year on from that recovery period and needs to show he’s still that player we saw while he was at LSU. He’s the new wave off-ball linebacker working its way into the league, to give up on that right now would be a bad loss. If he shows he’s lost that fast twitch and closing speed then let’s go back to asking if he’s worth holding onto. But for now let’s just wait and see before totally giving up on him.

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

DeMarvion Overshown #35
Age: 22
Experience: Rookie
College: Texas Longhorns

2022 Stats: (College)
Snaps: 712
Tackles: 49
Pressures: 23
Sacks: 3
TFL: 10
Defensive Stops: 46
Penalties: 3

2023 Contract:
Cap Cost- $980,005 (0.4% Total Cap)
Dead Cap- $920,020
Base Salary- $750,000
Signing Bonus- $230,005

2023 Projection:

Tom - As I discussed on the Ryled Up podcast, I think Overshown may be something of an understudy for the hybrid role filled in Quinn’s defense by Jayron Kearse. The team needs depth there, and Kearse is now 29, so Overshown may be a wise investment. Of course, he may also thrive as the WILL. We have to see how he develops his rookie year.

Mike - There’s a lot to like with Overshown and in time he’s going to be the guy to replace Jayron Kearse’s role. He’s fast and explosive and has a knack of avoiding blocks to get in the backfield when offered the chance. Most safeties that covert to linebacker have the athleticism but not the mindset, but Overshown doesn’t look to have the problem. It will be interesting to see how he’s deployed on the defense in camp and needs to be a close watch.

Additional Mentions:

Isaiah Land #53
Devin Harper #50
Malik Jefferson #46

Mike - If there’s one major criticism to the top three linebackers is they all have questions on durability. That puts guys like Harper and Land in an interesting position. Keep an eye on these guys closely during preseason as they could be taking starting snaps this year based on health issues. Otherwise these guys are going to be key features on special team duties.

Tom - I mentioned Cox’s likely role on STs, and that is the ticket for at least one of these players to make the roster. Linebacker is a prime resource for teams and the Cowboys almost always carry five or six. Preseason is going to be their chance to earn the Star.

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