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Will Micah Parsons’ 1st Season be the Last for Smith or Vander Esch?

joined the last night as the 12th-overall pick in the . With Dallas having spent such significant draft capital on the talented , does this indicate that 2021 will be the last season for or with the Cowboys?

Linebacker was one of Dallas' top needs going into this draft because of the issues Jaylon and Leighton. We've seen Smith's play decline over the last two seasons, with 2020 showing an especially steep drop, and Vander Esch continues to battle and performance issues in between.

Both veterans are at critical junctures in 2021. Vander Esch's rookie deal will expire after this season unless Dallas picks up the 5th-year option, which they must decide this Monday. Using a 1st-round pick on Parsons is a strong sign that they're not planning on it.

It makes sense; that 2022 salary would be a little over $9 million for Vander Esch and that full amount would count against the . That's a big chunk for a player whose reliability is currently so questionable.

Jaylon Smith already got his long-term contract but 2022 will offer the first real opportunity to him and get some cap relief. Dallas can create $5 million in cap space by releasing Smith outright next or $9.2 million if they make him a June-1st cut.

Cowboys LBs Jaylon Smith, Micah Parsons, and Leighton Vander Esch

You may be thinking “why not keep all three for the future? There are three starting linebacker spots.” Traditionally, this is true. But in the modern NFL that third LB is really more of the “12th man” on as your third gets way more playing time.

Also, keep in mind that Dallas did add in last month. While he's been a with the Falcons, Neal is reportedly switching to linebacker with the Cowboys and is even listed as one on the team's official website.

So for 2021, Parsons will be rotated with Neal, Smith, and Vander Esch in some fashion as he learns the NFL ropes. We could easily see all four on the field in the base 4-3 scheme and other short-yardage packages with Neal at safety.

But you don't spend the 12th-overall pick on a rotation guy. That may be the rookie-year plan so Micah can develop and the team can assess Jaylon and Leighton for the future. However, decision time will come in the .

The Cowboys could still retain Vander Esch with a new contract next year even without the 5th-year option. They could also keep Smith on his current deal if his play improves enough to justify his scheduled $11.8 million cap hit in 2022.

Micah Parsons now gives Dallas some leverage to make those decisions. But if the team was rock solid with Smith and Vander Esch going forward, they'd have spent that 1st-round pick on or perhaps even tried to move up and grab one of the cornerbacks they desperately need.

The fact they used it on Parsons tells you all need to know about the future of the Smith-Vander Esch duo in Dallas. Unless something bizarre happens this season, one of them will be looking for a new team next year.

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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