“I’ve always been motivated,” Vander Esch said after Thursday’s OTA practice. “I didn’t have to use that to be motivated to play better or work harder. I’ve been on a mission since the season was over because we just can’t have a season like we did last season. And it’s coming this year. I’m just controlling what I can control, and the rest will take care of itself.”
Vander Esch, the Cowboys’ first-round pick in 2018, finished third on the team in tackles (73) last season despite missing six games with injuries: a fractured collarbone in Week 1 that required surgery and a temporary stay on injured reserve, followed by a sprained ankle in Week 15 that sidelined him the final two games of the season.
Vander Esch has missed 13 games the past two years since his dominant 2018 rookie season, when he became the Cowboys’ third rookie defender and first rookie linebacker to make the Pro Bowl. In 2019, a neck injury kept him out seven games and required surgery after the season.
He’s scheduled to make $2.1 million this year. A fifth-year option would have paid him a little more than $9 million in 2022. But Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones said last month that the club’s intentions are “to keep Leighton around here for the next four or five years.”
“We’ve just got obviously some unknowns,” Jones told 105.3 The Fan. “Not unlike Sean Lee,…