The outlet cited the addition of rookie LBs Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox and the Cowboys’ decision to decline Vander Esch’s fifth-year option as motive to make the deal, with Pittsburgh sending a “mid-round” draft pick in exchange for the 25-year-old’s services.
The Steelers had a clear and obvious infatuation with Leighton Vander Esch coming out of Boise State in the 2018 NFL Draft. While Pittsburgh typically doesn’t target non-Power 5 school players in the first round, they certainly would have made an exception for LVE.
The collegiate star not only would have filled a huge void for the Steelers at linebacker, but he would have given them a big, powerful, athletic presence in the middle of their football field who can play the run, blitz, and cover.
Knowing that they only have one more year with him, Dallas could be looking to move on from Vander Esch very soon, and with Parsons and Cox now on the roster, LVE becomes mostly expendable. In all likelihood, it probably wouldn’t take more than a mid-round draft choice to obtain the talented linebacker at this point. In addition, Vander Esch has a base salary of just $2.1 million, according to Over the Cap, because he is still on his rookie contract.
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Cost of LVE Trade
Tentatively penciled in as a starter under new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Vander Esch is scheduled to count $3,769,750 against the Cowboys’ salary cap in 2021. His aforementioned base salary — $2,095,608 — is fully guaranteed, according to OverTheCap.com.
While Dallas no longer needs the injury-prone defender, who’s missed nine games over the last two seasons, the club would not recoup much by trading him away post-June 1. Doing so saves $2.095 million in cap space but creates $1.674 million, his prorated bonus, in new dead money.
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Parsons, the Cowboys’ first-round pick, is starting at middle linebacker. Keanu Neau, the former Falcons safety who arrived in free agency, is expected to see full-time reps at weakside linebacker, reuniting with Quinn.
This leaves Vander Esch and Smith — a supposed candidate to switch to dreaded strongside linebacker — on the outside looking in as head coach Mike McCarthy begins the process of paring down his 90-man offseason roster. McCarthy, ever optimistic, believes he and Quinn can straddle the line between retaining talent and getting the best players on the field.
“Your base defense when you play with three linebackers off the ball, or two off the ball and one on the ball, it just — I’m trying not to be redundant here — it gives us tremendous flexibility,” McCarthy said earlier this month, via ESPN. “It definitely makes Leighton and Jaylon better.”
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL