Leighton Vander Esch

NFC East Notes: Vander Esch, Eagles, Solder

Some positive Cowboys news emerged this week. Third-year linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has fully recovered from the offseason neck surgery he underwent. The former first-round pick told NFL.com’s Jane Slater he has been training full-go for multiple months (video link). Vander Esch was projected to be ready for OTAs, so it does not come as a major surprise he has moved past the injury that sidelined him for much of last season. However, Vander Esch’s cervical spinal stenosis condition — diagnosed while he was at Boise State — would make future neck surgeries problematic. So his transition back to the field will be a key part of Cowboys training camp.

Here is the latest from the NFC East, shifting to some of the division’s offensive lines:

  • Doug Pederson confirmed the Eagles have engaged in talks with 11-year left tackle starter Jason Peters, whom they let hit the market in March. However, the fifth-year Eagles coach expects 2019 first-rounder Andre Dillard to start at left tackle in 2020. “With Jason Peters, listen, we’ve always said we’d stay in touch with him during the offseason and we have,” Pederson said, via NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Reuben Frank. “I have a lot of respect for a guy like Jason Peters who played that left tackle position for so many years at a high level. But as we move forward, Andre Dillard was a guy we drafted to be that left tackle for us. The way Andre played last year kind of propels him into this offseason where he’s taken command of that role.”
  • Shifting to the Giants‘ left tackle situation, Nate Solder‘s contract makes it likely he will keep that job for a third season. But this will almost certainly be Solder’s last as a Giant, Dan Duggan of The Athletic writes (subscription required). Thanks to a September 2019 restructure, Solder carries a monster $19.5MM cap hit this season. The Giants can save $14MM by shedding his contract in 2021, which is the final season of the ex-Patriot’s four-year agreement. Big Blue drafted Andrew Thomas No. 4 overall, and it would be logical for the Georgia product to move from right to left tackle next year. New York used a third-round pick on UConn tackle Matt Peart, potentially planning a Thomas-Peart starting lineup in 2021.
  • The Redskins brought back veteran cornerback Aaron Colvin, whom they initially signed during the 2019 season.

NFC East Notes: Cowboys, Redskins, Peters

Mike McCarthy has hired several notable assistants to his first Cowboys staff, and the ex-Packers coach is considering making another big addition. The Cowboys are interviewing former Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards for a staff position, Todd Archer of ESPN.com tweets. While Dallas hired Mike Nolan as DC, McCarthy and Edwards have a long history in the NFC North. The pair coached against one another for years when McCarthy ran Green Bay’s offense, and Edwards has a history in Dallas. He spent four seasons (1998-2001) as the Cowboys’ linebackers coach — his first NFL gig. Edwards, 53, was believed to be in the mix for the Browns’ DC job, but the team prefers 49ers secondary coach Joe Woods for the post.

Here is the latest from the NFC East:

  • An Amari Cooper long-term deal with the Cowboys has been on the team’s agenda for over a year, and the Pro Bowl wideout has long expressed a desire to stay. But no agreement is imminent, Cooper said (via NFL.com’s Jane Slater, video link). Stephen Jones identified Cooper as the Cowboys’ No. 2 offseason priority, behind Dak Prescott, and Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk expects a deal to be finalized.
  • The neck surgery Leighton Vander Esch underwent this month went well, and Jerry Jones expects the standout linebacker to be ready for OTAs, Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News notes. Although Vander Esch was battling nerve damage and missed much of the second half of this season, this was a minimally invasive procedure. However, Vander Esch’s cervical spinal stenosis condition — diagnosed before he became a 2018 first-rounder — makes future neck surgeries problematic, per Gehlken. So this will be a Cowboys situation to monitor going forward.
  • Former 49ers defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina will join Ron Rivera‘s Redskins staff, with Washington announcing he will be added as its assistant D-line coach. A former 17-year NFL veteran, Zgonina broke into coaching midway through the 2010s as an assistant D-line coach. The 49ers let him go after the 2018 season, his second with the franchise.
  • The Eagles are expected to make major changes to their roster, which could be categorized as aging with numerous starters either north of 30 or set to turn 30 this year. One of the moves will be a switch from Jason Peters to Andre Dillard at left tackle, Zach Berman of The Athletic opines (subscription required). Peters is a free agent and has been Philadelphia’s left tackle since the 2009 season but turned 38 on Thursday.

Cowboys Make Four Roster Moves

As Dallas’ disappointing season winds down, they made a few roster moves Tuesday. The team has placed linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and guard Xavier Su’a-Filo on injured reserve, while signing linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong and offensive tackle Wyatt Miller to the active roster to take their places.

We heard yesterday that Vander Esch would undergo season-ending neck surgery, so this move was just a formality for him. Su’a-Filo had been starting at guard for the past month, meaning the Cowboys will be making an offensive line change for their Week 17 date with the Redskins. Dallas can still sneak into the playoffs as the NFC East champ, but they’ll need the Eagles to lose to the Giants for that to happen. Su’a-Filo was the 33rd overall pick of the 2014 draft by the Texans. He started for a while in Houston, but was mostly a disappointment.

He came to the Cowboys early on last season on a two-year deal, and ended up starting eight games. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent this spring. Armstrong is a journeyman who has bounced around the league a lot over the past handful of years, appearing in five games for the Saints earlier this season. Miller is a rookie UDFA from UCF who had been on the Bengals’ practice squad.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Leighton Vander Esch To Undergo Surgery

The Cowboys still have a chance to book a playoff berth, but they will go the rest of the way without one of their top defenders. Leighton Vander Esch‘s lengthy absence will continue into the offseason. He will miss Week 17 and be shut down for the season’s remainder, Jason Garrett confirmed Monday.

Vander Esch, however, will not need major surgery before returning in the offseason. The second-year linebacker underwent testing recently, and Jane Slater of NFL.com reports (via Twitter) the results indicated a need for a minimally invasive surgery. Vander Esch is expected to recover from his neck injury long before training camp, Slater adds.

This season obviously did not go as well for the first-round pick, who was one of the top rookies from a strong 2018 class. Nerve damage sidelined Vander Esch for the Cowboys’ past five games. He missed two other Dallas games this season due to injury as well. After a 140-tackle rookie slate that produced a Pro Bowl invite, Vander Esch will close his sophomore campaign with 72. But the Boise State alum remains an essential piece for the Cowboys going forward.

The Cowboys have used veteran Sean Lee more in Vander Esch’s absence, moving Joe Thomas into their starting lineup as well. Lee, Thomas and Jaylon Smith are expected to start in Dallas’ regular-season finale against the Redskins, a game the Cowboys must win while hoping the Giants can upset the Eagles.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC East Notes: Shurmur, Vander Esch, Eagles

Giants head coach Pat Shurmur is clearly on the hot seat, and everything we have heard this year suggests that he could be fired at season’s end. And as Paul Schwartz of the New York Post writes, the sentiment for bringing Shurmur back for the 2020 season is dimming within the organization because there is simply no concrete reason to suggest that he should be retained. Previous reports indicated that Shurmur could keep his job simply for the sake of giving young QB Daniel Jones some continuity, but Schwartz says the cons of keeping Shurmur outweigh that potential pro.

Schwartz does not offer an update on Big Blue’s plans for GM Dave Gettleman, and the fact that the Giants have historically practiced patience with their GMs and knew that they were tasking Gettleman with a rebuilding job could mean that he is safe for 2020. But will the team trust him to hire another HC since the Shurmur hire has flopped, or will ownership just clean house and start afresh? All options are definitely on the table.

Let’s take a swing around the NFC East:

  • Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has not played since November 17 due to a neck injury, and while there has been some improvement, the 23-year-old is still not ready to practice, as Todd Archer of ESPN.com writes. The club is not ready to put Vander Esch on IR just yet, but it sounds like that could be a possibility.
  • The Eagles may have lost WR Alshon Jeffery for the season, and as Bo Wulf and Zach Berman of The Athletic write, Nelson Agholor‘s status remains up in the air. Agholor sat out the team’s Monday night win with a knee injury, so Philly may need to make more than one WR roster move. Old friend Jordan Matthews just signed with the 49ers, so Berman believes it’s more likely that the team will promote one or two of their taxi squad wideouts than sign a free agent. Wulf, though, names a few players on other practice squads that the Eagles could poach.
  • Speaking of Jeffery, Eliot Shorr-Parks of 94WIP.com says the Eagles have no choice but to release the veteran wideout if they cannot find a trade partner for him (which seems highly unlikely). Because the team guaranteed Jeffery’s 2020 salary earlier this year in order to create more cap room, cutting Jeffery will result in an enormous dead cap number of over $26MM in 2020. That seems like an impossible pill to swallow, even if the club were to designate him as a post-June 1 cut to spread out the dead cap money over two years, but Shorr-Parks believes the team will indeed cut Jeffery if he cannot be traded.

Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch Out

Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch will not play this week against the Patriots and could miss substantially more time with a neck injury, according to Clarence Hill of the For Worth Star-Telegram. Vander Esch has faced medical questions surrounding his neck since his days in college. Losing Vander Esch would be a big hit to the Dallas defense.

While the injury is listed in a week to week manner, Hill notes in his story that Vander Esch is not scheduled for an MRI for another three weeks. Given the particular dangers with severe neck injuries and Vander Esch’s well-documented history of injury woes, Dallas should be especially cautious with the linebacker.

In his second NFL season, Vander Esch has lived up to his billing when healthy. After being selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Vander Esch earned a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie and has already accrued 72 tackles in just 9 games this season.

Without the Boise State alum, Dallas will likely turn to veteran linebacker Sean Lee to take over the team’s weak-side (WILL) linebacker position. Lee is far removed from his days as one of the best linebackers in football, but may be the most qualified backup in the NFL to help fill the gap.

Extra Points: Gordon, Pats, Lee, Giants, Lions

In a development that’s sure to prompt thousands of early phone alarms Sunday morning, Melvin Gordon has been downgraded to questionable. The Chargers‘ top threat is now a true game-time decision to play against the Titans in London, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Considering this is an 8:30am CT game, this will obviously test the commitment of Gordon’s North American-based fantasy owners while putting the Bolts down one of their best players. Gordon was a limited participant in Friday’s practice, but as ESPN’s Eric Williams notes (on Twitter), wasn’t listed on the injury report until Saturday. A hamstring malady places Gordon’s availability for Week 7 in question. The Chargers took precautions against a Gordon absence by promoting Detrez Newsome from their practice squad. Since finishing his first two NFL seasons on IR, Gordon has played in 22 straight games and emerged as one of the league’s best backs.

Here’s the latest from around the league:

  • The Cowboys will have the services of Sean Lee on Sunday against the Redskins. Lee is not on Dallas’ injury report for its game against Washington. He missed the past three games because of a hamstring strain, opening the door for first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch to log plenty of playing time. Vander Esch responded and enters Week 7 as Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 overall linebacker. Lee, Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith will split time in Dallas’ nickel package, Todd Archer of ESPN.com notes.
  • A disastrous Giants start will result in more changes to their maligned offensive line. Big Blue will bench free agent guard pickup Patrick Omameh and move center John Greco to guard on Monday night, Dan Duggan of The Athletic reports (subscription required). Former Chargers starting center Spencer Pulley will move into the role of Giants first-string snapper, Duggan adds. Omameh suffered a knee injury in practice this week, but Duggan notes this decision was made prior to that occurring. PFF slots the former Jaguars starter as its No. 67 guard (out of 73 full-time players at this position). He’s signed to a three-year, $15MM deal. Pulley, who started all 16 games for the Chargers last season, landed in New York via post-preseason waiver claim. Pulley will join Greco and right tackle Chad Wheeler as replacement starters for this year’s Giants front.
  • Despite logging three limited practices this week, Ziggy Ansah will not return for the Lions on Sunday. Detroit declared its top pass rusher out for a fifth straight game. The franchise-tagged defensive end said (via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press) like he felt like he could play, but the Lions will continue to soldier on without him. He’s been trying to surmount a shoulder injury since exiting in Week 1 because of it.
  • T.J. Lang, however, will return to the Lions’ lineup. The veteran guard missed two games because of a concussion and sought medical advice from several doctors, per Kyle Meinke of MLive.com. While Lang’s return will be a welcome sight for Lions fans, Meinke does not expect Detroit to keep him around in 2019. The final year of Lang’s Lions deal comes with an $11.7MM cap hit. It would save the Lions $9MM if they cut Lang, for whom they authorized a $9.5MM-AAV deal in 2017.
  • Rob Gronkowski is almost certainly going to miss the Patriots-Bears game, with ankle and back trouble keeping the all-world tight end home after his team departed for Chicago. But the Patriots will also be without backup Jacob Hollister, the team announced. This leaves Dwayne Allen as the only healthy tight end available. The former Colt has one catch this season. The Pats still haven’t declared Gronk out, which would make for an interesting sequence of events were he to play without boarding the team plane.

Cowboys Sign 8 Draft Choices

The Cowboys now have all but one of their nine 2018 draft choices signed. Headlined by linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, Dallas reached agreements with everyone but third-round wide receiver Michael Gallup on Friday, Todd Archer of ESPN.com reports. Here’s the full list of signees:

The structure of the Boise State product’s contract slightly held up the team’s proceedings with its top draft investment, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Clarence Hill (Twitter link), but he’s now signed up. Vander Esch will earn approximately $11.847MM and collect a $6.696MM signing bonus.

Vander Esch met with numerous teams that held picks in the middle of the first round, and despite needs at both pass-catching positions, the Cowboys selected the Mountain West Conference standout. Connor Williams also didn’t play a position of dire need, given Dallas’ three All-Pro linemen, but he’s now in the mix for the team’s left guard spot.

Despite being unsigned, Gallup is working out at the Cowboys’ rookie minicamp on Friday. Many third-round picks around the league have yet to sign. This is an annual tradition due to the CBA’s gray area regarding third-rounders’ compensation.

NFL Draft Notes: Dolphins, Browns, Jets, Raiders, Bucs

The Dolphins are serious about moving back in the draft if the board operates as the team expects, Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald writes.

Beasley says if the quarterbacks the team are targeting all go early, the team would be more than happy to trade back, pick up additional assets and target a linebacker like Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch.

Though the team did not have Vander Esch in for a pre-draft visit, Miami did meet with him at the Combine in February and not having a pre-draft visit did not stop it from selecting Charles Harris in 2017.

Trading back with the hopes of landing the Boise State standout could be a risky proposition. The quick linebacker has been one of the fastest rising names in the days leading up to Thursday’s NFL Draft.

Here’s more concerning the upcoming draft:

  • The MMQB’s Peter King released his first-round mock draft on Monday and has Sam Darnold pegged as the No. 1 pick to the Browns. King cites his pick on the team’s need to be safe and a source who is “someone I trust, who is very often right and is very well-connected, told me Sunday it’s not [Josh] Allen.” 
  • In the same mock draft, King tabbed Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea to the Dolphins at No. 11. Miami was believed to be one of the teams looking to move up for a quarterback like Baker Mayfield. “I’ve started to think, through what I’ve heard in the pre-draft process, that Miami is more likely to stick with Ryan Tannehill (who has missed the last 19 games with injury) and continue the progress he was making with Adam Gase in the 2016 season.”
  • Unlike the Browns, who plan to have their drafted quarterback watch from the sidelines in 2018, the Jets are not opposed to having their top pick — should they draft a quarterback — starting from Day One, Jets head coach Todd Bowles tells Newsday’s Calvin Watkins“It depends on the progress,” Bowles said. “I’m not afraid to play young players at any position. You go in and compete and as you gain confidence in the system, understand what you’re doing and go through training camp.” New York is highly expected to take a signal-caller at No. 3.
  • The Buccaneers could trade back with a team looking to land a quarterback and pick up a running back or pass rusher with the move, Florida Football Insiders speculates. Though the Broncos and Colts have been heavily linked to trade back, the Bucs also make sense. Should they land in the middle to late in the first round, they could target LSU running back Derrius Guice or UT San Antonio defensive end Marcus Davenport.
  • The Raiders are looking to upgrade their receiver depth and could target the position in the upcoming draft, Scott Bair of NBC Sports writes. Though it won’t likely look for a receiver at No. 10, several options like Christian Kirk and James Washington could be on the board in the second round.

La Canfora On Draft, Raiders, Miller, Patriots

UCLA tackle Kolton Miller could be a target for the Raiders if they trade down from the No. 10 overall pick, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com hears. However, they probably can’t move back all that far if they hope to land him. Evaluators and offensive line coaches that have spoken with JLC believe that Miller – and not Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey – is the best tackle in this year’s class. Plenty of teams in the teens are eyeing the 6’9″ prospect and McGlinchey is more likely to go in the late teens or early 20s, La Canfora hears. The Lions at No. 20 could be Miller’s floor as they would plug him in on the right side.

Here’s more draft buzz from JLC:

  • The Patriots are entertaining the possibility of moving up in the teens if the right quarterback falls, La Canfora writes. The Dolphins and Bills are exploring QBs at Nos. 11 and 12, so the Raiders could potentially find value by trading down from No. 10. Josh Rosen, in JLC’s estimation, appears to be the most likely of the big four QBs to slide. I’d agree with that assessment as the Browns, Giants, and Jets are reportedly not high on the UCLA product.
  • The Broncos say they are open to moving down from No. 5 and JLC believes that linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is very much on their radar. The likely trade scenario, he believes, would see the Bills moving up to get Josh Rosen if Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, and Baker Mayfield come off of the board in the top four. The Bills own the Nos. 12 and 22 picks in the draft.
  • The Bengals at No. 21 could be the floor for Arkansas center Frank Ragnow. Ragnow is climbing up boards around the league and has a good chance of going in the first round.
  • The Ravens are looking for a tight end, but they would rather not select one at No. 16. La Canfora hears that the Ravens, ideally, would like to move down 5-7 spots to get South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst. The Ravens can’t go too far, however, with the Saints sitting at No. 27.
  • Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who won’t turn 20 until after the draft, is a lock to go in the top 10, JLC hears. He also wouldn’t be shocked to see him go as high as No. 6 overall, depending on how the first five picks shake out.
  • Florida defensive tackle Taven Bryan could go just outside the top 10 and JLC believes his worst case scenario is No. 26.
  • Florida state defensive lineman Josh Sweat could sneak into the late first round and seems very possible for the second round.