The Dallas Cowboys have known for almost two months how much it would cost to exercise Leighton Vander Esch’s fifth-year option. With a quickly-approaching deadline of May 3, it appears the Cowboys will wait until the last minute to decide on the matter.
“We’ll be discussing that after the draft,” said Stephen Jones this week on 105.3 The Fan regarding the fifth-year decision for Vander Esch, according to Jon Machota. If Dallas walks away from the draft with one of the best linebacker prospects, it is hard to imagine that not paying a large role in the teams decision regarding the former first-round pick.
Cowboys VP Stephen Jones on @1053thefan said they haven’t had deep discussions on whether they will exercise the fifth-year option on Leighton Vander Esch’s rookie contract. “We’ll be discussing that after the draft.”
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) April 26, 2021
Jones also noted Cowboys management is yet to get into “deep discussions” on the issue of the Vander Esch option. Starting Saturday evening, the club will have just two days following the draft to assess their potentially-updated depth chart at linebacker and choose whether or not to offer the $9.145 million fifth-year option to the former first-round pick from Boise St.
Vander Esch’s career has unfortunately looked too similar so far to another Dallas linebacker, one that the club lost this week to retirement, Sean Lee. Vander Esch had a stellar rookie season, but battled significant injuries in each of the two subsequent campaigns.
Even if the Cowboys choose to not retain Vander Esch with the fifth-year option, he will still be with the team this upcoming season, and the Cowboys could re-sign him following the season.
The biggest potential x-factor in the Cowboys upcoming decision is the 2021 NFL draft, which is now less than a day away. It’s no secret Dallas will likely make defense a priority, and use the majority of their 10 picks in the next three days on that side of the ball.
Dallas could stand to add depth at all three linebacker positions, so a selection of a backer doesn’t necessarily mean Vander Esch’s option will not be exercised. However, one has to think that if the Cowboys walk away with one of the draft’s top linebacker prospects that it only diminishes the chance of Vander Esch’s fifth-year option being picked up.
Using Dane Brugler’s rankings, let’s look at off-ball linebacker draft prospects that if the Cowboys managed to acquire could have an impact on the Cowboys decision regarding Vander Esch’s future with the club.
Off-ball linebacker prospects who could impact Cowboys decision on LVE
Micah Parsons, Penn State, projected round: Early to mid first
“Parsons is an impressive size/speed/strength athlete with the reaction to movement and combative mentality to develop into a cornerstone defender and three-down linebacker for an NFL team. He projects as one of the best talents in the draft.” -Brugler
Zaven Collins, Tulsa, projected round: Mid to late first
“Collins isn’t overly explosive, but he has a unique
blend of size, range and instincts for the position with the scheme-versatility to be a starting strongside linebacker in a 3-4 or inside/outside backer in a 4-3.” -Brugler
Jamin Davis, Kentucky, projected round: Mid-first to early-second
“Davis isn’t a banger and needs to improve his take-on skills, but he trusts his eyes and plays fast to quickly respond to play development. He projects as a run-and-chase linebacker and Zach Cunningham clone.” -Brugler
Nick Bolton, Missouri, projected round: Mid-first to early-second
“Bolton must improve his consistency in coverage, but his play speed, instincts and contact-driven mentality will translate to production. He projects as a three-down player if he continues to improve.” -Brugler
Jabril Cox, LSU, projected round: day two (rounds 2-3)
“Cox has holes in his game, primarily with his run fits, that make it tough to love him, but he is easy to like with his smooth athleticism, spatial awareness and football character. He projects as a versatile defender with three-down potential.” -Brugler
Baron Browning, Ohio State, projected round: day two (rounds 2-3)
“Browning doesn’t consistently play with anticipation, but he is physically impressive with the size, length and athleticism to rush the passer or drop in coverage. He projects best as a SAM linebacker or designated pass rusher with down-the-road starting potential.” -Brugler
Chazz Surratt, North Carolina, projected round: day two or early day 3 (rounds 2-4)
“Surratt must improve his run fits and develop in several areas, but he has the athleticism, instincts and competitive toughness
to be a high-volume tackler and run-around weakside linebacker in the NFL.” -Brugler
Pete Werner, Ohio State, projected round: day two or early day 3 (rounds 2-4)
“Werner needs to clean up some inconsistent tendencies,
but he has outstanding lateral range and his sights are always on the football. He projects as a versatile linebacker with four-down potential.” -Brugler