Cowboys decline Vander Esch option, creating intrigue and options at linebacker

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ARLINGTON, TEXAS – OCTOBER 20: Leighton Vander Esch #55 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates a play in the first quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium on October 20, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

FRISCO, Texas (AP/KXAN) — The Dallas Cowboys have declined the fifth-year option on linebacker Leighton Vander Esch’s rookie contract. The decision sets up an interesting season after the club used this year’s first-round pick on a potential replacement in Micah Parsons.

The Cowboys placed a heavy emphasis on the linebacker position in the draft and free agency. Dallas signed former Atlanta Falcons safety Keanu Neal this offseason. Neal will spin down to linebacker under defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, his former Falcons head coach.

In addition to drafting Parsons, Dallas also used its fourth-round pick on LSU linebacker Jabril Cox.

The Cowboys could make a roster decision on Jaylon Smith. The former Notre Dame linebacker is under contract through 2025 season, but there are outs in his contract if the Cowboys wanted to move on. However, if Smith is released or traded, the organization would have to eat a hefty portion of his contract, causing issues to the salary cap.

Vander Esch had a strong rookie season after the Cowboys drafted him 19th overall in 2018. But injuries limited him to 19 games over the past two years. Unless a long-term deal gets done, Vander Esch will be a free agent following the 2021 season.

The 25-year-old was due to make $9.1 million in 2022. Executive vice president Stephen Jones says the club still wants to keep Vander Esch longer term.

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