The New England Patriots have already added a ton of linebackers to their roster during the offseason. However, the Dallas Cowboys’ former Pro-Bowler Leighton Vander Esch was mentioned as a potential trade target in a recent article from Pat’s Pulpit’s Bernd Buchmasser.
According to Buchmasser, several former first-round picks like Vander Esch could be available after their original teams elected not to pick up their fifth-year option. The Patriots added their own 2018 first-round pick, Sony Michel, to that group last week. Michel could be traded or released, and there is a possibility the same could happen with Vander Esch.
Here’s what Buchmasser said about the potential fit with the Patriots and Vander Esch:
Injuries have prevented Vander Esch from returning to the Pro Bowl form he showed as a rookie, but when healthy he can be a productive off-the-ball linebacker with the size to also be used in a Dont’a Hightower-like move role. He would likely be cheap but still offer upside with Hightower on the wrong side of 30 already and no clear succession plan in place.
After the Patriots signed former New York Jets linebacker Harvey Langi on Monday, the linebacker group is even more crowded. However, if there is a belief Vander Esch could be back to top form with a change of scenery, would the Patriots be interested?
Why Are the Cowboys Seemingly Willing to Let Vander Esch Go?
The Cowboys have two very promising young inside linebackers, just as the Patriots have Damien Harris and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson who might make Michel expendable.
The Landry Hat’s Lucas Mascherin expounded on the tough predicament for Vander Esch.
A significant drop in production with injury issues is a cause for concern. Unfortunately for Vander Esch, that’s not all. The 2021 NFL Draft finished over the weekend, and the Cowboys drafted two linebackers. One of them was a highly-coveted first-rounder in Micah Parsons. Another is Jabril Cox, a top coverage linebacker that slid to the fourth round. With everything that has happened, owner Jerry Jones and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn are not comfortable with the long-term availability of Leighton Vander Esch. That may be them not pleased with the drop in production or the uncertainty surrounding his health.
Sports Injury Predictor broke down Vander Esch’s disturbing injury history:
Nov 21, 2019 NFL Cervical Neck Stinger Vander Esch had neck surgery to alleviate the nerve issues that forced him to miss seven total games in 2019 Aug 15, 2018 NFL Inguinal Groin Pull Grade 1 Vander Esch missed a couple of weeks of training camp with a groin injury. Jun 4, 2018 NFL Pedal Ankle Sprain/Pull Unspecified Grade 1 Vander Esch missed time in the spring with an ankle injury. Oct 1, 2016 Non-NFL Cervical Neck Pinched Nerve Vander Esch missed 7 games in 2016 with a pinched nerve in his neck. Aug 15, 2016 Non-NFL Knee LCL Pull Grade 1 Vander Esch suffered a Grade 1 LCL sprain in August 2016 but was ready for the start of the season on September 3.
Looking at this list that dates back to 2016, you can understand why any team might have some trepidation when considering signing or trading for Vander Esch.
The Best of Vander Esch
Vander Esch made the Pro Bowl his rookie season in 2018. That year he played in all 16 games, starting 11 contests and recording 140 tackles and two interceptions. He had the look of a player who would be a perennial Pro-Bowl performer for years to come.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to get back to that level, and injuries appear to be the biggest reason for his decline.
Still, Vander Esch is just 25 years old, and we’ve seen players overcome early injury issues in their career. Hopefully, Vander Esch can become the next player with that story, even if his comeuppance isn’t with the Patriots.
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