One-time Cowboys Pro Bowler Named Cut Candidate in 2024

The Dallas Cowboys‘ 2024 offseason will be one to watch, if only to see who potentially gets cut from a stacked roster. There’s no shortage of talent on the team, but the need to pay top players and improve further might mean the end of the road for players like linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.

In a January 29 article from Bleacher Report, the 2018 Pro Bowler is named as a cut candidate. It’s not a surprise considering his injury issues, which is a shame considering he’s played decently.

“For one, Dallas needs to improve its linebacker corps and a defense that has been vulnerable to the run over the past few seasons. Secondly, Vander Esch has struggled to stay healthy,” Kristopher Knox writes. “He was limited to five games in 2023 by a neck injury. Vander Esch was productive when healthy—he logged 30 tackles and a defensive touchdown in his five appearances—but Dallas simply can’t count on him to stay on the field. Given his history of neck injuries, Vander Esch may also have to consider stepping away from football.”

It would be a tough way to say goodbye, but this is the NFL. Dallas has rode with “LVE” longer than some may have expected. Going forward, they have to upgrade their LB play and Vander Esch probably isn’t part of that process.

Leighton Vander Esch Struggles to Hit 2018 Heights

Vander Esch joined the Cowboys as the 19th overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft. Coming out of Boise State, his 6’4″, 256-pound frame was backed up by intelligent and impactful LB play for the Broncos. Right away, he showed his immense potential.

LVE totaled 102 solo tackles in 2018 while swatting seven passes and grabbing two interceptions. Besides being a sure tackler, his reading of the NFL pass game was impressive. He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, while also being named a second-team All-Pro.

Vander Esch played well the following season, but two injuries sidelined him for seven games. The second was a nerve ending problem in his neck, which began a long line of neck issues.

There have also been other injuries in the years since, but it’s the neck that makes LVE difficult to keep. If there’s a chance he shouldn’t be playing football, both the player and the Cowboys’ front office need to consider calling it a day.

What Cowboys Can Save by Cutting LVE

While Dallas’ front office can’t recoup Vander Esch’s entire pay for the 2024 season, they can get about half. Spotrac shows that the 28-year-old is due for a $4.4 million cap hit, and $2.25 million is guaranteed.

Still getting $2 million back is a small, but useful chunk. Most of the team’s draft picks will have a lower salary than that total, so if the Cowboys look to the draft for a new LB it almost lines up perfectly.

Further, the Cowboys need the space in general. Dallas is currently overcommitted for 2024 and are set to open the league year $11.5 million over the cap. Parting ways with LVE doesn’t fix that outright, but it would certainly help.

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