The Dallas Cowboys 2021-22 season ended in heartbreaking fashion. The team tied the postseason record for 14 penalties in the contest. The onslaught of flags on both sides of the ball kept the San Francisco 49ers on the field and didn’t allow the Cowboys’ offense to stay in their element.
From the inability to convert on third downs, to the complete lack of a rushing game, to a continual failure of being able to capitalize on Niners’ mistakes, it just wasn’t Dallas’ best performance by a long shot. The special teams’ trick plays and defensive stops weren’t enough to propel the Cowboys despite many chances to turn things around.
It looked like there was a shot for them to come out victorious in the fourth quarter, but continuous blunders led to a deflating loss.
Sadly, this isn’t surprising. The Cowboys continually struggle to perform in the postseason. This is now 11 straight playoff appearances without reaching a conference championship game.
This was arguably one of the most stacked rosters in recent Cowboys history. Yet, they still couldn’t get it done. Not to pour salt in the wound, but the Cowboys have 23 players set to hit free agency in March. And considering they are currently $13 million over the cap at the moment (the fourth-worst in the NFL), there is no way they will be able to keep them all. Jerry Jones and his team will find a way to break even, but they will have to let go of some players.
Here are five Cowboys free agents who likely won’t be back in Dallas next season.
5 Cowboys free agent players who may not be on the 2022 roster
5. Leighton Vander Esch, LB
The 25-year-old linebacker can be great, but he honestly hasn’t been consistently since his rookie season. When the Boise State linebacker hit the NFL in 2018, he took the league by storm. In his first year, Vander Esch had 140 tackles, two interceptions, and seven passes defended. Since then, he’s hardly made a sound.
He did have a couple of crucial tackles in the Wild Card game against the 49ers, but he also had a few clear missed tackles that allowed easy yardage for San Francisco.
His rookie year gave Dallas a ton of promise, but he just hasn’t matched that first year again. A lot of this is due to injuries. Vander Esch missed seven games in 2019 and six games in 2020 with injury issues.
For a guy this young to have so many injury problems, it’s hard to take a gamble on his future. Dallas has already declined the fifth-year option on his rookie deal, which shows they might already not have plans for him in the future. Given his injury-prone nature, this is not very surprising. Teams may have a genuine concern that he may never get back to the player he was in 2018.
Regardless, PFF projects that Vander Esch will receive around a three-year, $25.5 million deal. Given that standout rookie linebacker Micah Parsons has completely outshined Vander Esch, I doubt the Cowboys want to spend that much money on the fourth-year Cowboy.
Although he brings great energy to the team, it’s safe to say Vander Esch will be in a different uniform next year.
Leighton Vander Esch final 2021-22 regular season stats:
- 77 combined tackles (only 17 more than in 2020 where he played seven fewer games)
- Four tackles for loss
- One QB hit
- One interception