LB Leighton Vander Esch on re-signing with Cowboys: 'My best football is ahead of me'

The Dallas Cowboys spent the early portion of the NFL's negotiation window retaining their key defensive pieces.

In addition to the big trade for Stephon Gilmore, Dallas agreed to re-sign safety Donovon Wilson and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.

The trio of moves solidifies Dan Quinn's defense and makes clear Dallas' priorities this offseason. Couple the Cowboys' moves with Mike McCarthy's comments about wanting to run the ball more and rely on a good D, and you can see the offseason plan in action.

Bringing back Vander Esch and Wilson keeps stability in the Cowboys' back seven, and the trade for Gilmore boosts the secondary, albeit with a 32-year-old.

Vander Esch told CowboysSI.com on Tuesday that the coaching staff is the main reason he wanted to return to Dallas.

"I'm so happy to be coming back to Dallas," Vander Esch said. "One of the big reasons is I just love playing for Dan and Mike."

LVE's career has been a roller coaster. He had a Pro Bowl rookie season, gobbling up 140 tackles. Then injuries and inconsistent play left him looking like he wouldn't be long for Dallas. He played better the past two years under Quinn, including 90 tackles and a sack in 2022.

"I've had three different defensive systems in four years," Vander Esch said. "Me having the same defensive coordinator in back-to-back seasons ... I am only going to get better.

"My best football is ahead of me."

The Cowboys are betting on Vander Esch continuing to improve to anchor the middle of the defense.

There is plenty of time for Dallas to peck away at other needs in the third and fourth waves of free agency, but their early moves have underscored the desire to keep Quinn's menacing D intact. They've done so for the most part, allowing them to fill the gaps and possibly focus on the offense in the draft.

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