Leighton Vander Esch needed to have a pretty good season in 2021 if he wanted to remain with the Cowboys after his fifth-year option was declined last May. He had a pretty solid year, logging 77 tackles, a sack, and an interception.

The Cowboys are thin at linebacker outside of Micah Parsons so it’s certainly a need in the NFL draft next month. However, the play of Vander Esch impressed the Cowboys enough to where they re-signed him to a one-year deal on Friday.

Vander Esch had an excellent rookie season in 2018. He amassed 140 tackles (led the Cowboys), two interceptions, and seven passes defended. Vander Esch was named a second-team All-Pro and it appeared the sky was the limit.

When the 2019 season rolled around, the worst thing that can happen to a professional athlete happened to Vander Esch: injuries.

He missed seven games with a neck issue that ultimately required off-season surgery. After having no setbacks in his rehab, the expectation was for Vander Esch to return to form in 2020, but another injury came about.

The former first-round pick suffered a broken collarbone in the season opener against the Los Angeles Rams, costing him six games. Over two years, Vander missed 13 games and had eight fewer tackles (132) combined over that span than he did in his rookie season.

Last season was very encouraging when it comes to the injury history of Vander Esch. He played in all 17 games and made 16 starts as a rotational linebacker. If he can stay healthy, he adds experience and depth to the linebacker spot. And, re-signing him doesn’t stop the Cowboys from drafting a guy like Nakobe Dean out of Georgia if he falls to the 24th overall pick.

Leighton Vander Esch is back in Dallas and has a chance to build off of his injury-free campaign from last season which could lead to a long-term marriage with the Cowboys if he performs well.

Feature image via Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports