The 2021 NFL Draft is now over. With that being said, the Dallas Cowboys have to turn their attention to other matters involving the organization.
One of the most glaring issues is the future of 2018 first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch. As he enters his fourth season, the once bright start to his career has turned into uncertainty. The Cowboys have until 4 pm ET Monday to exercise the fifth-year option on Vander Esch, and according to Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News, they aren't expected to do so.
Vander Esch's fifth-year option is $9.145 million and is fully guaranteed if it were to be picked up.
If the Cowboys don't pick up his option they've already covered their bases. In the first round of this past week's draft, they took the best defensive player coming out of the collegiate ranks, Linebacker Micah Parsons out of Penn State. They then doubled down on the position by getting what many believe to be one of the steals of the draft in LSU's Jabril Cox in the fourth round. Throw in the signing of Keanu Neal, who is expected to be more of a linebacker in Dan Quinn's scheme as opposed to his normal position of safety, not picking up Vander Esch's option wouldn't be surprising.
“The Wolf Hunter” as he's known took the NFL by storm three years ago. He played in all 16 games (11 starts) and amassed 140 tackles (102 solo tackles), two interceptions, and seven passes defended while garnering second-team All-Pro honors. However, since his rookie campaign, it's been a rough road for Vander Esch on the injury front.
In 2019, he suffered a neck injury that cost him seven games and required surgery in the offseason. Last season, it was more of the same as he went down with a broken collarbone in Week 1. Once he returned in Week 6 he played in nine consecutive games, but went down with an ankle injury and missed the final two contests.
Cowboys Executive President Stephen Jones talked about Vander Esch's future last Tuesday and dropped an interesting nugget.
“Certainly not unlike Sean, Leighton’s had some unfortunate injury situations,” Jones said. “We’ll take a look at that and put it all into the mix in terms of where we’re going to be with the salary cap and make a decision that’s in the best interest of our team.
“It doesn’t mean at all that we’re not interested, if we didn’t exercise the option, in keeping Leighton around here. Obviously, if we do, that solidifies that he’s here 110%. So we’ll get in a room and go over that and make a decision.”
What will the Cowboy's decision be? We'll know shortly. However, with what the Cowboys acquired in the draft at the linebacker position plus Vander Esch's inability to stay healthy, it doesn't look good.