by Dallas Cowboys Mailbag, Patrik Walker & Kurt Daniels
Even with the Cowboys bringing Leighton Vander Esch back, am I the only one who thinks they still need linebackers? Do you think we'll see them address the position in free agency or wait until the draft? - James Blas/Kunkletown, PA
Patrik: No, you are not the only one and, to be frank, I'm at a loss as to why anyone would believe they're all set at the position. I listed LVE as the second-most important in-house free agent to keep this offseason, behind only Donovan Wilson. And successfully doing so basically just kept the LB corps from being in shambles, but it did not fix the pre-existing depth issue that was made worse by Anthony Barr hitting free agency. Without Barr under contract, the Cowboys have only two impact LBs to point at: LVE and Damone Clark. That's because while Jabril Cox has a high ceiling, he also has much to prove to become a key player on defense in 2023, and the other present LBs are guys who spent 2022 on the practice squad (Malik Jefferson and Devin Harper). Oh, and by the way, Luke Gifford left in free agency. So if Vander Esch misses any amount of time, with the current rotation, just how much of a drop-off would the Cowboys see at the position? That's scary, and it's proof the team absolutely has to address the role of LB either in outside free agency and/or in the upcoming draft.
Kurt: First off, remember that despite being listed as a linebacker, Micah Parsons will primarily be rushing the passer, so, yes, there is definitely work to be done here. I must admit I was thankfully surprised that Vander Esch was re-signed. Not because the team didn't want him, but after nearly reaching 100 tackles again, I feared the Cowboys wouldn't be able to match what he could get on the open market. Maybe they had to. Aside from that known commodity, there are a lot of unknowns at this position. Vander Esch will continue to be a steadying presence in the middle of the defense, but he will hopefully also help bring along those like Damone Clark, Jabril Cox and Devin Harper. The youngsters have shown promise, particularly Clark, although even he may not be considered a sure thing quite yet. Because of that, Dallas will most certainly seek to bring in one or two veteran linebackers on cheap free agent deals to add to the depth and picking up at least one in the draft could be expected as well. With the strength of the secondary behind them, and a pass-rush that could be a force in front of them, the Cowboys can't afford any letdowns in their linebacking corps.