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Examining Cowboys' deal to bring back linebacker Leighton Vander Esch

The Dallas Cowboys opted for their tried and true free agency method of keeping their own by re-signing linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.
Credit: AP
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)

DALLAS — Leighton Vander Esch has found his niche in the Dan Quinn defense, and the Dallas Cowboys were obliged to ensure the defensive coordinator has his green-dot-helmet linebacker for the next two seasons.

On Tuesday, the Cowboys signed their former 2018 first-round pick to a two-year contract worth $8 million just before the new league year kicked off.

NFL reporter Aaron Wilson was able to obtain contract details regarding the new deal between Vander Esch and the Cowboys. The 6’4”, 256-pounder gets $5 million on his contract guaranteed with a $2.5 million salary bonus to remain in Dallas.

The first year base salary of Vander Esch's contract is guaranteed at $1.5 million. In 2024, Vander Esch is slated to make $3 million in base salary, but $1 million of the base is guaranteed. There is a $250,000 workout base de-escalator clause in the contract that applies to each year's base salary.

The former Boise State product can earn $29,412 in per game active roster bonuses per year. Vander Esch can also receive a $1 million playtime/playoffs incentive.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told "K&C Masterpiece" on 105.3 "The Fan" (KRLD-FM) that the greatest asset Vander Esch had on the field was his length.

"He’s got such range because of his length and those big, long arms and that ability to cover that ground out there are a real advantage and they are problematic for an opposing quarterback," Jones said. "When he looks out there, he sees those arms and that span and it influences how he makes a throw. We’ve always known that was there."

Why Vander Esch has had to stay with the Cowboys on a series of short-term contracts is due to his injury history early in his career. After a Pro Bowl rookie campaign with 16 games played in 2018, Vander Esch logged just 19 games through 2019-20.

Said Jones: "Did we use it well enough? Did we maximize the use of what Vander Esch does? Well, because of the neck injury that he had three years ago, then that might have been a little late coming, but, boy, it’s there now."

Since Quinn's arrival as defensive coordinator in 2021, Vander Esch has contributed with 102 combined tackles, eight tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, 2.0 sacks, an interception, three pass breakups and a forced fumble through 31 games, 30 of which he started.

"He is a huge advantage to have on that field," said Jones.

Do you think another Pro Bowl honor is in Leighton Vander Esch’s future? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.

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