1. Leighton Vander Esch
The Cowboys proved to Leighton Vander Esch they wanted to keep him around by re-signing him to a one-year deal last year. Now they need to find a way to do it again. Vander Esch immediately proved his worth during his rookie season in 2018. He was named second-team all-pro and to his first Pro Bowl.
However, the former Boise State Bronco quickly started becoming Sean Lee 2.0 with injuries in 2019. He missed seven games during that season with nerve injury in his neck and underwent surgery that offseason. The following year he was limited to 10 games after breaking his collarbone on opening night against the Los Angeles Rams. During the 2021 offseason, Dallas declined his fifth-year option.
In his “prove it” year, Vander Esch had his best season since he was a rookie. He only missed one game and recorded 77 tackles, the second-most of his career since his rookie season. After the season, Dallas re-signed him for one year.
This past season saw the injury bug bite Vander Esch again, but he was able to play in 14 games. He sat out most of the back half of the season in order to heal before the playoffs and it paid off. Vander Esch provided a much-need spark in the team’s run defense that sputtered down the stretch.
The injury history is the biggest argument against Vander Esch, but losing him would hurt Dan Quinn’s defense.
With fellow linebackers Anthony Barr and Luke Gifford also on the list of impending free agents, the Cowboys need to look to retain somebody for that corp. Vander Esch is worth a multi-year deal at this point.