Leighton Vander Esch, the Cowboys former first-round pick, is up for his fifth-year option this offseason, which would extend his contract into 2022.
The young linebacker has had some bright moments in his career, but injuries have also plagued him.
Should Dallas pick up the option or make 2021 his prove-it year?
When the Cowboys drafted Vander Esch in 2018, many fans had no idea who he was, but he quickly became a fan favorite. In his first season, he set a franchise rookie record with 140 tackles and two interceptions while also finishing third in the NFL in tackles.
Vander Esch looked like a bright spot for the Cowboys until 2019 when he injured his neck and had to sit out for a majority of the season along with getting surgery. This is not a one-time problem either. In 2016 Vander Esch injured his neck at Boise State and missed half the season, and this was a known issue with the linebacker when he entered the draft.
When Vander Esch returned for the 2020 season, he told the media that he was ready to go.
“I am doing wonderful. I feel as good now as I ever have before I even got hurt. I’ve been training full-go for a couple of months now, so it’s not holding me back whatsoever.”
In the Cowboys’ first game of the 2020 season, Vander Esch went down again. This time with a broken collarbone. He missed about a month of football with that injury and then returned, only to get injured again in week 15 and miss the remainder of the season.
The week 15 injury was said to be a high ankle sprain and should be a fairly easy and quick recovery, but there is no denying the young linebacker has had a rough history with injuries.
Vander Esch has yet to show the level of performance that he had his rookie season, and the Cowboys’ linebacker struggles have been obvious with him in and out of the line-up. It is not a good look when a team is looking for more players in a position that they spent a first-round pick on only two years ago.
Despite his struggles, Vander Esch is determined to return to the form that fans saw during his first year with the Cowboys.
He says that he will be spending this coming offseason in Dallas, “training his butt off.”
“People can say what they want to say, but it’s the game of football and the ones that can be resilient, and they can bounce back from that and just keep continuing to grind, day after day no matter what happens, good things are going to happen eventually.”
Now the Cowboys have a decision to make…
The Cowboys can put their faith in Vander Esch and make sure he stays around a little longer or uses this next season to decide if he is worth keeping.
Featured Image: Fort Worth Star-Telegram