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2022 Free Agency: Should Dallas Re-Sign LB Leighton Vander Esch?

While not the biggest name among the Cowboys' 2022 , is certainly a significant one. With his rookie deal now expired, how much should the former 1st-Round pick factor in the Dallas' future plans?

The last four years haven't been great for Vander Esch. After a brilliant rookie season in which he made the , held Leighton to just 19 games over the next two years. Even when on the field, Vander Esch looked hesitant and nothing like the budding star we enjoyed in 2018.

The struggles from 2019-2020 led the Cowboys to decline their 5th-year option on Leighton's contract. They could've secured his rights for 2022, albeit with a significant raise, but instead decided to let him prove himself in 2021 and then see where things stood.

Well now we're here and Vander Esch is still a big question mark. 2021 was a mixed bag and didn't definitively answer the question of his future with the team.

On the plus side, Leighton was healthy enough to play in all 18 games (including ) and started all but Week 1. Over the last quarter of the regular season and against the 49ers in January, Vander Esch was playing his best ball since 2018 with impact plays and better overall consistency. He was easily the second-best LB on the roster after .

But the gap between Vander Esch and Parsons was a wide one; Micah was a phenom all year long and Leighton only turned it on late. Was that last gasp enough to make the Cowboys want to keep him around?

Leighton Vander Esch
Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch

On one hand, Dallas could certainly look into upgrading that other LB spot. With Vander Esch and both free agents, Parsons is the only major player from last year currently under contract. And with neither Neal or Vander Esch really knocking their auditions out of the park, the opportunity to improve is there.

On the other hand, Vander Esch is still just 26 and was picking up steam by the end of the year. Between his injuries and the changes to Dallas' , it's reasonable to write off 2019-2020 and focus on the good things Leighton's showed as signs of future value.

Remember, the “Wolf Hunter” was an absolute stud in 2018. While perhaps not on the same level of Micah Parsons as a rookie, Vander Esch did make the Pro Bowl and had everyone excited about his long-term potential.

Because of those down years, Vander Esch is not entering the market as a hot name. While some teams could still target him, Leighton shouldn't be commanding an exorbitant contract that the Cowboys would be unable to match.

Had they exercised the 5th-year option for 2022, Dallas would be paying Vander Esch a fully-guaranteed $9.1 million this year. That helps establish a ceiling for what Leighton is worth and should expect in his next deal, especially after a generally mediocre year in 2021.

Again, the Cowboys may feel they're better off finding a completely different linebacker from Vander Esch or Neal for next season. But given what they know about Leighton and his seeming lack of leverage in , Dallas might be able to retain him at a relative bargain. They could offer him long-term security or a one-year “prove it” deal; whatever Vander Esch and his camp feels is best for his future.

Whether or not Leighton Vander Esch returns to the Cowboys in 2022 is one of many questions for this . But it's one that seems very wide open at the moment; the circumstances are there for Dallas to go either way based on the money and positional need.

Jess Haynie
Jess Haynie
Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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I was so excited about LVE after his rookie year. I just don’t see the Cowboys making a further investment in him going forward. His up tick in production was encouraging, but the injury history is just too much if a deterrent. I wonder if they would have any interest in bring Hitchens back now that the Chiefs have cut him.


I was expecting LVE to light it up on a contract year but he appeared like was thinking instead of reacting. A one year deal should be good if at an affordable price. I wouldn’t be surprised if some desperate team give him a hefty contract, because when he was pretty good before. As for the time missed due to injuries, T Smith, D Lawrence and T Hill have missed a bunch and R Gregory has missed even more due to personal problems.


I’d bring him back but at a reduced rate with incentives. He’s valuable in run downs and ok in coverage. He’s far better than Jaylon who Dumb and Dumber gave a ridiculous contract.


I let him walk his production has gone down since his rookie campaign where he was excellent, and all the injuries would deter me as well.
I’ll pass on him, Conner Williams, zuerline, and Shultz

gary b

I wouldn’t. Somewhere along the line LVE lost his mojo, partly due to the physical/psychological effect of all the injuries. He plays tentatively and seems to have lost his instincts. Maybe a cheap contract for depth, but still think we can do better.


He deserves a contract with benchmark incentives.


Dallas continues to show there players that they do not matter. If the players do not play at pro bowl level on every play, the fans do not want them, so Jones dump them. Injuries are not treated consistently either with players, such as a acl verses neck. In Dallas continuity does not exist for players to really develope, and for the team to develop. With coaches like Moore, and Quinn there is such a great opportunity for Dallas to finally develop the players more completely, and turn the corner. Try to be a complete team now Jerry.

Jerry Lehman

I think LVE would be a low risk, high reward signing. My theory is that he was injured, then when he came back from injury, he was tentative and then began regaining confidence towards the end of the year. His physical ability hasn’t really changed. If he continues on the trajectory he is on, he could be a good to great linebacker next year at a low cost. If he doesn’t continue on that trajectory, they won’t have spent much to find out.


No no and no … got worse every year.. these are the deadwood we hang onto too long.
Bye bye

Rafael Fernandez III

I’m a big Dallas Cowboys fan since 1994 through this coming season and always be a cowboys fan

Bob Walsh

He has improved greatly after the injuries…I dont see anyone working harder than LVE.
He’s going Full Tilt on every play.
Watch film.

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