A former Pro Bowler is expected to land a “significant” contract this offseason.
According to ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch — who will be a free agent this offseason — is expected to command a “significant” deal on the market this offseason. As noted by Barnwell, the 26-year-old linebacker is currently on a one-year, $2 million deal after Dallas initially declined the fifth-year option on his rookie deal.
Vander Esch is currently in the midst of his best campaign since his rookie Pro Bowl season back in 2018, which should garner him a raise.
“He’ll be getting a raise,” said Barnwell. “Vander Esch had his best season since that rookie campaign, with the Cowboys relying on his ranginess in coverage to help cover the middle of the field. He missed just three of his tackle attempts all season, and his steadiness as a linebacker allowed the Cowboys to unleash Micah Parsons more often as a pass-rusher.”
Barnwell did finish his thoughts on Vander Esch by mentioning his injury history. In addition to the three games he missed this year, Vander Esch also previously missed 15 games across two seasons in 2019 and 2020.
“Vander Esch did miss three games with a stinger, and teams will want to give him a thorough physical if he leaves Dallas, but the 26-year-old should land a significant contract this offseason,” said Barnwell.
Cowboys LB Vander Esch Bounces Back in 2022
The veteran linebacker posted 90 tackles this season, ranking second on the Cowboys in that category this season. According to Pro Football Focus, Vander Esch ranked as one of the top linebackers in the league, producing a 72.8 defensive grade and a 77.0 grade in coverage during the 2022 season. Among linebackers with at least 500 snaps, his defensive grade ranked 22nd among all linebackers while his coverage grade ranked 10th.
In fact, the idea of the Cowboys allowing Vander Esch to walk is a very realistic one — especially if he’s able to command a big offer in free agency. This possibility was actually brought up by Pro Football Focus’ Brad Spielberger, who proposes that the Buffalo Bills should pursue the linebacker.
“Vander Esch would be a cheaper option and great pairing alongside Milano as a bigger, more physical player,” said Spielberger. “The former first-round pick earned his best overall and coverage grades since his rookie season in 2022, with 72.8 and 77.0 grades, respectively. Vander Esch also missed a career-low 5.7% of tackle opportunities in 2022 and showed up big time in the wild-card round with seven tackles and two pass breakups, one of which came in the end zone.”
Vander Esch’s Future in Dallas Hinges on Market Value
As valuable as Vander Esch has been this season, Dallas will have bigger priorities to address. The re-signing of Tony Pollard will be an avenue the Cowboys will have to tackle, combined with possibly cutting former Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott.
The Cowboys will obviously tackle the Pollard and Elliott contract situations first. If Vander Esch is unable to command the “significant” offer that Barnwell mentions, there’s a good chance he returns to Dallas. If Vander Esch ends up becoming a hot commodity on the market, it’s hard to envision him extending his career with the Cowboys.