NFL+ Free 7-Day Trial! (320X50)

Vander Esch, Gifford signings provide Cowboys improvable depth at LB – Cowboys Wire

The Dallas Cowboys continue to maintain their reputation of being a team that loves to sign their own players in free agency. Their latest deal was bringing back linebacker Leighton Vander Esch on a one-year deal, worth up to $3 million.
In an interesting plot twist, the Cowboys declined to use the fifth-year option for $9.145 million on Vander Esch last offseason and get him back at a significantly reduced price in this year. For a team that tends to make questionable decisions with their money, this one worked in Dallas’ favor.
Cowboys agreed to terms with LB Leighton Vander Esch on a one-year contract, source said. Their 2018 first-round pick played all 18 games, including playoffs, last year after two injury-hampered seasons. Played his best in pockets down the stretch.
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) March 18, 2022

Vander Esch’s career trajectory has been on the way down, but he’s still a solid player who can help at a position in desperate need for the Cowboys. The team limited the LB’s snaps during the 2021 season and got good results. After an All-Pro first season, Vander Esch’s play has fallen off due to injuries to his neck and collarbone, which led to his reduced role to keep him on the field.
He responded with 77 tackles, two pass deflections and his first career interception. For a fraction of the cost, the Cowboys are gambling that level of productivity is his floor moving forward, and if not the investment isn’t overwhelming.
The teams lack of depth at LB surely played a role the decision. With Vander Esch and fellow LB’s Luke Gifford, Keanu Neal and Francis Bernard free agents, the defense needed bodies.
That left star LB Micah Parsons and last year’s fourth-round pick Jabril Cox as the only hold overs at the position. Cox will be coming off a torn ACL and played limited snaps as a rookie, so he’ll still have a bit of a learning curve.
Parsons was the only LB on the roster who had significant playing time at the position in 2021, but he is also expected to get pass rushing snaps at defensive end. And if the Cowboys don’t address DE further after losing Randy Gregory, there’s an outside chance that he’ll get even more opportunities to rush the passer.
The Cowboys also used former safety Neal as a LB in 2021, but he didn’t play his best football. Neal arrived because of his familiarity with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, but his time with the team appears done.
Dallas needed to find a way to build up the position that didn’t have much past Parsons and Cox. Vander Esch was the first domino to fall. After being allowed to test the market early in free agency and not getting a larger deal elsewhere, Vander Esch opted to return to the Cowboys.
Also agreeing to a deal with the Cowboys on Friday was fellow free agent Gifford. The fourth-year undrafted free agent inked a one-year deal to stay in Dallas as well.
My client Luke Gifford (LB, Nebraska) just agreed to a new 1-year contract with the Dallas Cowboys. Has been on their roster the last three seasons and wanted to continue getting more defensive playing time while remaining one of their top special teamers.
— Brett Tessler (@TesslerSports) March 18, 2022

Gifford’s main role is as a core special teams player, but he can play LB if called upon.
It might not excite the fan base that’s still asking for a bigger fish in free agency, but Vander Esch can play and Gifford adds valuable depth. Vander Esch is just 26-years old and has an All-Pro on his resume, so the ability is there to have an impact. He might not play to that level again, but  can be a starter if necessary and covers the Cowboys in case they don’t add a high-level LB before the draft.
Vander Esch’s meager contract also allows the Cowboys to go after an elite level defender in free agency. Former Quinn protégé Bobby Wagner remains available and would make an exceptional addition to the Cowboys’ defense. Wagner is one of the few players still available that could make a significant difference for Dallas and the team has the resources to make the move.
Whether they pull the trigger on Wagner or not remains to be seen, but Vander Esch and Gifford’s signings have little bearing on any decisions about Wagner. Friday’s re-signings have more to do with adding depth at a position of need and to bolstering the Cowboys’ special teams.
The Cowboys still need help at LB.

Sign up for the Cowboys Wire newsletter to get our top stories in your inbox every morning
Sign up for the Cowboys Wire newsletter to get our top stories in your inbox every morning
Cowboys Wire
© Copyright Cowboys Wire 2022
USA Today Sports
Powered by VIP
Please enter an email address.
Thanks for signing up.
Please check your email for a confirmation.
Something went wrong.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *