1. Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch
Another notable free agent linebacker option in action on Sunday, should the Lions be seeking an upgrade or have a void to fill with Anzalone’s departure, there’s no denying Vander Esch’s talent, production and versatility. He had 140 total tackles two interceptions and seven pass breakups as a rookie in 2018, as he earned a Pro Bowl nod and was a Second Team All-Pro. This season, he had 90 total tackles in 14 regular season games.
And with that last number, there’s the start of the rub with Vander Esch. Three games missed this year (due to a shoulder stinger) isn’t necessarily notable on its own. But he has missed a total of 16 games over the last four seasons, with some significant ailments (neck, collarbone) in the mix. The Cowboys declined the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, surely due to durability concerns, then brought him back on a cheaper one-year deal ($2 million) last offseason.
Vander Esch was a key cog in Dallas’ stifling of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offense in the Wild Card Round, with nine total tackles and two pass breakups. On one play, as highlighted by John Owning of Pro Football Focus in the second tweet here, he erased some missteps by his teammates elsewhere in coverage.
Vander Esch may have to settle for another shorter, cheaper deal in free agency this year, though it’s very possible he gets some security via a two or three-year pact from someone (maybe the Cowboys)
The 49ers offense is a unique challenge for opposing defenses. Vander Esch could make himself some significant money with another standout performance. The Lions should be paying attention.