Over the last couple of years, the linebacker position has gone from being perceived as a position of strength for the Dallas Cowboys to a serious concern. Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have been unable to recreate the magical 2018 season that had many wondering if they were the best linebacker duo in the NFL. Some injuries to Vander Esch and a decline in play for Smith and now many are wondering if the Cowboys need a massive overhaul at the position.
As much as it makes sense, it seems unlikely that the Dallas Cowboys will move on from Jaylon Smith or Leighton Vander Esch this offseason, even though it might make sense to do so.
Heading into the offseason Smith and Vander Esch are the only linebackers on your roster with any kind of playing experience. Sean Lee, Joe Thomas, and Justin March are all headed toward free agency leaving Luke Gifford, Francis Bernard, and Azur Kamara as the backups to Smith and Vander Esch.
Even with the potential in Gifford and Bernard, it’s unknown potential and they aren’t players that you’re ready to rely on in a meaningful football game.
As much as I don’t like the allocation of the 10th overall pick to the linebacker position, it does make a lot of sense based on the direction the position is headed. However, even if they have plans to select a Micah Parsons, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramorah, Nick Bolton, or Zaven Collins in the first round, the Cowboys front office needs to address the position in free agency as well. Whether it’s re-signing Joe Thomas or going with a veteran player like Lavonte David, the Cowboys need some experience and they need to have players that can take some of the pressure off of Smith and Vander Esch to be every-down players moving forward.
Vander Esch has dealt with significant injuries each of the last two seasons. It might be wise to manage his workload moving forward to minimize the chances of sustaining another injury. Does that sound familiar?
Smith has had his moments on the field and he’s been able to stay on the field after returning from his ACL injury. However, he’s become a liability at times, falling prey to misdirection and play action while struggling in coverage.
Beyond the two starters, the Cowboys need depth. There’s no telling if Sean Lee will want to continue playing or if Joe Thomas still has a place with this squad. Justin March has been a solid special teams contributor. If the Cowboys don’t bring back any of those three, then they’ll need to get to work this offseason filling out their depth chart. If the plan is to rely on Gifford or Bernard as the next linebacker off the bench, then they’ll need to find some veteran insurance in case they aren’t up to the task.