The Cowboys declined to exercise the fifth-year option on linebacker Leighton Vander Esch‘s contract, and they drafted linebacker Micah Parsons in the first round and linebacker Jabril Cox in the fourth round. It is not necessarily as it seems, though.
The Cowboys still believe in Vander Esch, but he has missed 13 games over the past two seasons.
So Vander Esch heads into a contract season, with, he insists, no more motivation than he otherwise would have.
“I’ve always been motivated,” Vander Esch said Thursday, via Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I didn’t have to use that to be motivated to play better or work harder. I’ve been on a mission since the season was over, because we just can’t have a season like we did last season. And it’s coming this year. I’m just controlling what I can control, and the rest will take care of itself.”
Vander Esch will make $2.1 million this season and is scheduled to hit free agency in the spring. But Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said last month the team hopes “to keep Leighton around here for the next four or five years.”
Vander Esch said he had a “great conversation” with Jones when the Cowboys declined his fifth-year option.
“I’ve got nothing but respect for the Joneses. They’re the ones that took a chance on me to begin with,” Vander Esch said. “So I mean, I trust in their plan, and I think we have a great thing going. Our relationship is amazing. Like I said, I’m just controlling what I can control. I’ve got no control over the logistics of who pays who what. It is what it is.”
Vander Esch will move back to weakside linebacker after playing middle linebacker last season as new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn rebuilds the defense. The Cowboys gave up the most points in franchise history last season and fired Mike Nolan in January.
“I’m going back to pretty much my old role from the first two years, which I think is what it should have been last year,” Vander Esch said. “But I think it’s going to be a lot more familiar to what we were used to running, which is running and hitting and making plays and having fun.”