Monday is the NFL deadline to decide on fifth-year contract options for 2018 first-round picks, and the Dallas Cowboys have made their call on Leighton Vander Esch.
The Cowboys informed the veteran linebacker that his option will be declined “due to ongoing salary-cap uncertainty,” NFL Network’s Jane Slater reported, adding the team hopes to sign Vander Esch to an extension before his rookie deal expires in 2022.
The Dallas Morning News‘ Michael Gehlken was the first to report on Dallas’ decision.
Barring a surprise, Cowboys won’t place the fifth-year option Monday on LB Leighton Vander Esch. Option or no option, he needs to be at his best in 2021. https://t.co/UK1Y3fKTeR
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) May 3, 2021
If exercised, Vander Esch would’ve pocketed $9.145 million in 2022 before hitting unrestricted free agency the following offseason. As is, he’s scheduled to earn $2.095 million in base salary and count $3.769 million against the salary cap in 2021, his age-25 campaign.
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When he’s on the field, Vander Esch has been an impactful, three-down, upper-tier linebacker. Problem is, he’s rarely on the field — one of the most injury-prone players this side of Sean Lee, who announced his retirement last week.
Vander Esch returned from career-threatening 2019 neck surgery but was limited to 10 games last year after breaking his collarbone in the season opener. He finished with 60 combined tackles (32 solo), one sack, and a forced fumble across 460 defensive snaps.
“Certainly not unlike Sean, Leighton’s had some unfortunate injury situations,” Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said on April 27, via Inside The Star. “We’ll take a look at that and put it all into the mix in terms of where we’re going to be with the salary cap and make a decision that’s in the best interest of our team.
“It doesn’t mean at all that we’re not interested, if we didn’t exercise the option, in keeping Leighton around here. Obviously, if we do, that solidifies that he’s here 110%. So we’ll get in a room and go over that and make a decision.”
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