Should Cowboys pick up Leighton Vander Esch’s option? Gil Brandt says no

Leighton Vander Esch, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Leighton Vander Esch, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images) /

Should the Dallas Cowboys pick up Leighton Vander Esch’s fifth-year option?

The Dallas Cowboys seemingly found themselves a gem in Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. The Bosie State linebacker earned Pro Bowl honors after only his first season in the NFL and figured to become a defensive stalwart for the Cowboys for years to come.

Yet, in his last two seasons, Vander Esch’s short career has been plagued by injuries. In 2019, the 24-year old was limited to just nine games due to a neck injury that required offseason surgery. This year, Vander Esch missed four games after breaking his broken collarbone in Week One. He also missed this past weekend’s matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles due to an ankle injury.

With so many injury issues so early, it’s fair to wonder if Vander Esch will follow a similar path that has plagued fellow linebacker Sean Lee for his entire 10-year career. The 34-year old is a two-time Pro Bowler who has been only able to play a full-16 game season once over the last decade. Lee missed the team’s first seven games this year after having sports hernia surgery.

As a former first-rounder, Vander Esch has a fifth-year option in his rookie contract available for the Cowboys to pick up next offseason. If they do so, it will extend the linebacker’s current rookie deal through 2022. But despite his past Pro Bowl-worthy performance, his rash of injuries since muddies that decision.

Here’s what former Cowboys executive, Hall of Famer, and current Senior Analyst Gil Brandt wrote on the league’s official website about whether Dallas should pick up the fifth-year option on Vander Esch or not.

"“Exercise the option? No – Vander Esch made the Pro Bowl after a great rookie season, in which he logged 140 tackles, two picks and seven passes defensed, but injuries have kept him from competing at that level since. Over the past two seasons, he’s appeared in just 19 games, with 132 tackles in that span.”"

What seemed unthinkable after his rookie season, now seems plausible as Vander Esch is coming off two back-to-back injury-plagued seasons in Dallas. The Cowboys could certainly opt not to pick up his fifth-year option this offseason and instead force the young linebacker to prove he can stay healthy and effective in 2021.

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As a rookie, Leighton Vander Esch recorded 140 total tackles, seven pass deflections, and two interceptions in 16 games. Over the past two years combined, Vander Esch has played 19 games and posted 132 tackles, three pass deflections, and has had no picks.