The Dallas Cowboys defense was pushed to the limit by the Philadelphia Eagles. While the Eagles exposed some weak points in Dallas' D, linebacker Markquese Bell continued to impress filling in for injured starter Leighton Vander Esch.
According to Pro Football Focus, Bell made three defensive tops and seven solo tackles. The 2022 undrafted free agent struggled in coverage on Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert, but nobody's going to crush him for that.
After all, Bell entered Week 9 as PFF's highest-graded linebacker. A former safety, Bell has impressed starting alongside Damone Clark and Cowboys fans are hoping he continues experiencing linear progression amid Vander Esch's absence.
Vander Esch was placed on IR two weeks ago, meaning he could return as early as Week 11. However, that felt like a best-case scenario and executive vice president Stephen Jones hinted Monday that the veteran linebacker could miss the rest of the season with his neck injury.
Has Leighton Vander Esch played his last game with the Cowboys?
We can't help but wonder what this means for Vander Esch's future.
He's obviously had a history with neck injuries. He was born with a cervical spine condition that increases pinched nerve probability and bulging or herniated discs. He missed seven games in 2019 with a neck injury and underwent surgery after the season that forced him to miss the start of the 2020 campaign. Additionally, Vander Esch missed three games late last year with a neck/shoulder injury.
That history is downright alarming, so it's no secret why the Cowboys are being cautious with the former Pro Bowler. It doesn't sound like Dallas plans on bringing Vander Esch back before the playoffs, which aren't for another two months. Based on Jones' comments, that feels like the earliest they'll get him back.
The Cowboys re-signed Vander Esch on a two-year deal in March. They'd only save $250,000 by cutting him in the offseason, per Over The Cap. With that in mind, Dallas might be better off just bringing him back, but we're talking about a player who's played two full seasons in six years and has chronic neck issues.
Starting-caliber linebackers don't grow on trees, so the Cowboys shouldn't simply kick Vander Esch to the curb without a contingency plan.
He brings experience to an otherwise unschooled room, but Bell's unexpected play and Damone Clark's continued growth -- paired with DeMarvion Overshown's return from ACL surgery in 2024 -- gives Dallas three capable linebackers should they choose to move on from Vander Esch.
This is all hypothetical, of course, but we can't be the only Cowboys fans pondering Vander Esch's future after Jones' ominous update on the LB.