Not long ago, Leighton Vander Esch looked like the future at linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys. Earning a Pro Bowl his rookie season, LVE was a howling menace.
Three years later, he looks like the odd man out.
The Cowboys drafted Micah Parsons in the first round, Jabril Cox in the fifth and signed safety-turned-LB Keanu Neal. Then they declined Vander Esch's fifth-year option.
With Jaylon Smith signed to a long-term contract that includes guaranteed money this year, LVE appears to be the first domino that would fall if Dallas makes a move this year.
Rumors about the Cowboys moving on from Vander Esch via trade or release have swirled since the draft. That's all they are: talk.
NFL Network's Jane Slater reported Wednesday that while other teams are interested in the linebacker, the Cowboys are not interested in a trade, per a source informed of the situation.
Slater added that Vander Esch is still very much a part of the defensive plan in 2021 and beyond.
How far into the future remains to be seen as the 25-year-old linebacker enters a contract year.
A former first-round pick, Vander Esch can be a sideline-to-sideline tackler and stick with backs in space. However, after his star-worthy first season, the linebacker has missed fits and struggled in coverage at times. More concerning for his future in Dallas is the injury issues that wiped out 13 games the past two seasons, including six in 2020.
The Cowboys currently have a logjam at linebacker as they transition to Dan Quinn's new scheme. It makes sense that teams might inquire about LVE's availability. But it doesn't appear Dallas plans to make a move at this stage of the game.