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Leighton Vander Esch is Back to “Prove It,” but Probably for Other Teams

After finishing his rookie contract last season, signed a one-year deal to return to Dallas and hopefully convince someone that he deserves a long-term deal. But after the Cowboys' 2022 draft, it's starting to look like the 's “prove it” season will be to attract the NFL's 31 other teams.

Vander Esch became an unrestricted this after Dallas declined the 5th-year option on his original contract. While Leighton had an outstanding rookie season in 2018, and scheme changes marred his 2019-2020 seasons and left the Cowboys dubious about his long-term potential.

Leighton started to get back to form last year, finishing 2021 on a high note with a strong second half to the regular season and being one of the team's best performers in the playoff loss to the 49ers. It was enough for Dallas to give him an almost fully guaranteed $2 million for the upcoming season.

The Cowboys already have two linebackers they seem committed to for the long term in and . One is obvious; Parsons is already one of the best defensive players in the league and probably the centerpiece of Dallas' for years to come.

Cox is already feeling like a valued asset based on the evidence. The has commented that they expect a full recovery and significant role for Jabril in 2022, and then validated that by not selecting a linebacker until the 5th round of last week's draft.

That rookie, LSU's , had a limited chance of playing this year due to recent spinal fusion surgery. But the Cowboys have stated that they expect him to get on the field at some point as a rookie, and if so Clark may get a chance to flash talent that was generally expected to make him a Day 2 pick before the surgery.

None of this bodes well for Leighton Vander Esch's future in Dallas. Even if he has a fantastic , will the cap-conscious Cowboys give him a lucrative deal next offseason when they already have Cox and Clark to work with?

It's not like Vander Esch's departure would leave Dallas with nothing, either. If another team scoops him up in 2023 then that could factor into the compensatory pick formula and help the Cowboys score a mid-round pick in 2024.

It really feels like a classic “damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario for Leighton. If he struggles on the field or with injuries this season then Dallas just moves on to younger prospects. If Vander Esch has a good year he just might price himself out of the Cowboys' range.

However it shakes out, bad or good, 2022 is looking like Leighton Vander Esch's last season in Dallas.

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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Agreed. I think they may end up being stacked at LB if Cox and Clark make full recoveries. They also now have some intriguing depth with Harper and Hansford.

With Quinn and a lot of other teams moving to more Nickel and Heavy-Nickel (3 Safeties), 4-5 viable LB’s is enough. They also have Jayron Kearse playing that Safety/LB hybrid role. Mukuamu puts on a few more pounds of muscle, and he could be another option for Kearse’s role when his contract is up after 2023, and he’s over the 30 mark.

LB is a physical and injury prone position, but I think we’ve built good depth there. With as many picks as they’ve spent there the last two years, we better have.

William Bristol

I think two.million is a sweet deal for the Cowboys. Leighton has that most coveted trait for linebackers, speed. 4.65 forty out of college. Parson’s 40 time was 4.66. So don’t write off Leighton too quickly. He needs to protect his neck and run fast…he can do those things. I am glad we have him and wish him great success. Particularly if playing for the Cowboys!

Rod McSwain

William Bristol,that’s not accurate. LVE speed is no where close to Parson.. Parson ran a sub 4.4 forty!! Do your research!! Pulling for LVE though!!


Agree William, relative bargain deal for LVE, shouldn’t right him off so quickly. Had a good second half and GREAT playoff game (13 tackles). These LB draft picks and UDFAs are yet to be seen at pro level. One note, MP ran a 4.39 at pro day, and I understand pro day numbers are usually better, but he’s obviously been outstanding so far.


Correction; shouldn’t “write” him off.

Cowboys fan

I don’t mind keeping LVE either…. But he’s nowhere near as fast as Micah is…. Micah ran a 4.39 in the 40!! But If LVE can stay healthy I’ll be fine with keeping him, as long as he’s not too expensive!! If he does price himself out of Dallas then I’m fine with Cox and Clark too,!! But either way, after what Micah did last year, there’s no way to compare him and LVE!! As good as LVE was his rookie year, Micah was that much better!!

Stan C.

We’ve got both a college and pro history of injuries. Worse off we have recently had neck surgery. For a LB that’s never good. LVE gets consumed at or near the line of scrimmage. Out in space he is a definite liability. Someone, please show him the door!

Troy Jones

He’s the only guy who at least tries to tackle and none of that srm grabbing shut


Obviously, It’s time for him to Step Up or Get to Steppin’ !

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