Cowboys re-sign Leighton Vander Esch after competition from 2 AFC teams
After he garnered interest from the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers, the Dallas Cowboys decided they didn’t want to let free agent linebacker Leighton Vander Esch go anywhere. According to many reports, the team is signing the linebacker to a one-year deal. ESPN’s Todd Archer reports that the deal can max out at $3 million. Aside from the fact that the Cowboys have yet to sign a single player from outside of the organization, this move is a bit of a surprise.
Despite being a first-round pick by the Cowboys in 2018, Dallas decided not to sign Vander Esch’s fifth-year option for 2022 because of the linebacker’s injury history. When that happened, many assumed the Cowboy would land elsewhere in free agency. However, his ability to have 16 starts in 2021 may have changed their minds. Vander Esch now joins Dorance Armstrong as the second defensive free agent to sign back with the team.
Given the affordable price and the fact that the team lost out on Randy Gregory, the deal does make sense. Linebacker was certainly a position of need and Vander Esch’s presence will allow Micah Parsons to play more snaps as an edge. The Cowboys are hoping Vander Esch can get back to the way he was playing in his rookie season.
In 2018, the linebacker had 140 tackles, seven passes defended, and two interceptions, landing him a Pro Bowl selection and second-team All-Pro honors as a rookie. The next season, he missed seven games with a neck injury that led to surgery. In 2020, he was back on the IR with a broken collarbone and then sustained a high ankle sprain at the end of the season. Last year, the injuries improved and so did his play, but Vander Esch was certainly overshadowed by other defensive standouts.
The Cowboys re-sign Leighton Vander Esch to a one-year deal and the linebacker said his “best football is ahead”
While there is certainly something to be said for continuity on a team, the Cowboys have certainly missed out on several high-level linebackers in free agency. The front office seems to be very committed to their draft picks and making the most affordable decisions possible. Several of Dallas’s returning players (DeMarcus Lawrence, Vander Esch, Dorance Armstrong, Dalton Schultz, Michael Gallup, etc) have only ever played for the Cowboys.
In an exclusive interview with Mike Fisher of Sports Illustrated, Vander Esch commented on his future with Dallas:
"“My last six games were my best, and I want to build on that. I’m excited to get back and play for DQ [Dan Quinn]. I’ve jumped right back into training, so heading into training camp, I feel like this will be the strongest I have ever been… My best football is ahead of me.”"
Through four up-and-down seasons, Vander Esch has tallied 349 tackles, eight tackles for loss, 12 pass breakups, and three interceptions. The Cowboys are hoping the 26-year-old’s injuries are behind him and that he still has great days ahead of him. But there are certainly many more positional needs to be resolved before the start of 2022.