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Cowboys Rumors: Leighton Vander Esch's Contract Option Expected to Be Declined

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 3, 2021

Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Jaylon Smith (54) and outside linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (55) react during an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Emilee Chinn)
Emilee Chinn/Associated Press

The 2021 season may be linebacker Leighton Vander Esch's final one with the Dallas Cowboys.

According to Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News, the Cowboys are not expected to exercise the fifth-year option on Vander Esch's contract for the 2022 campaign prior to Monday's deadline. 

The option would be worth $9.145 million in 2022.

Talent hasn't been the issue for the Boise State product. 

Dallas selected him with the No. 19 overall pick of the 2018 NFL draft, and he wasted no time establishing himself as a defensive playmaker. He made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season behind 140 tackles, seven passes defended and two interceptions, demonstrating he is someone who could both help stop the rushing attack and stay with tight ends in pass coverage.

However, he played just nine games in 2019 while dealing with back concerns and then played 10 games in 2020 during a season that saw him fracture his collarbone.

"Vander Esch was born with spinal stenosis, a condition associated with a narrowing of the spine," Gehlken explained. "This caused the bulging disk to create nerve-related issues, leading to surgery in January 2021."

Given the medical concerns and the uncertainty of future salary cap situations as the league looks to move past the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cowboys may not want to commit that 2022 money to the linebacker.

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They also notably drafted linebackers Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox and could be looking toward the future at the position.

All that means Vander Esch could be playing for a new contract during the 2021 campaign.