Can you remember a better day in free agency than what the Dallas Cowboys executed on Tuesday? Re-signing Donovan Wilson would’ve satiated most fans’ appetites, but the fact they pulled off Leighton Vander Esch, and traded for Stephon Gilmore? You couldn’t script it better than that if you tried.
In terms of Wilson and Vander Esch, word out of Dallas suggested the team would struggle to retain both players.
The consensus was Wilson would ink a lucrative deal after a breakout 2022, and Vander Esch would cash in elsewhere due to the ballooned linebacker market after Tremaine Edmunds signed for $50 million guaranteed with Chicago and Bobby Okereke got $40 million over four years with the Giants.
Those deals indicated the money had to be right for Vander Esch to return.
While Vander Esch still got a handsome pay day given his injury history, the details of his contract prove Dallas got insane value.
How does $5 million guaranteed sound? Further, how does a $1.5 million base salary in 2023 and $3 million base salary in 2024 sound?
Cowboys Free Agency: Dallas got a steal with Leighton Vander Esch’s contract
This is ridiculously good work by Dallas’ front office.
Not only are Vander Esch’s base salaries and guaranteed diminutive considering how he performed in 2022, but his cap hits would suggest he’s not even an important player on the roster. Of course, everyone knows that isn’t the case, as Vander Esch proved in the playoffs (and during the regular season) that he’s indispensable as the garbage man of Dan Quinn’s defense.
According to OverTheCap, Vander Esch will count for $3.16 million against the cap in 2023, and $4.75 MM in 2024. There’s no guaranteed money left after 2023, so the Cowboys could ditch the player if his injury troubles persist and save $3.5 million in cap space while incurring $1.25 million in dead money.
For context, Vander Esch has the 18th-highest (or lowest) cap hit on Dallas’ payroll for next season; lower than Jourdan Lewis, Malik Hooker, CeeDee Lamb (rookie deal), Micah Parsons (rookie deal), and Terence Steele.
Here’s a full breakdown of LVE’s new deal.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
NFL Network’s Jane Slater reported the Texans made a late push to sign the linebacker, and that the Steelers were in the mix for his signature. It’s pretty clear Vander Esch took a hometown discount to return not only to the team that drafted him, but a system that he’s familiar with and has flourished in.
Playing for Dan Quinn likely sweetened the pot, too.
What a steal of a contract this is. Vander Esch is a spectacular player when healthy, and the entire front office deserves a round of applause.