Regardless of whether they hire his coach, the Denver Broncos could pursue Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, a pending free agent, later this offseason.
Pro Football Network's Ben Rolfe named Denver as a landing spot for the former Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro, citing the team's bare-bones situation at inside linebacker.
"Kenny Young, Micah Kiser, Josey Jewell, and Alexander Johnson are all set to be free agents this offseason," Rolfe wrote. "That leaves the Broncos with Baron Browning and Justin Strnad as potential starters next year. While both have flashed, there is a void in terms of experience there. If the Broncos decide to go for a cheaper option at linebacker, Vander Esch could be that option in free agency. It would not be an exciting option, but it would give the Broncos a strong tackler in the middle of their defense."
The 19th overall pick of the 2018 draft, Vander Esch has compiled 349 tackles (225 solo), 12 pass deflections, three interceptions, and 2.5 sacks across 52 career appearances (46 starts). The Boise State product has been perpetually injured as a pro, missing much of the 2020 campaign with a neck issue that eventually required surgery.
Although a shell of his former playmaking self, Vander Esch remains a capable two-down defender. He finished the regular season with 48 solo tackles, four tackles for loss, one INT, and a sack over 17 games, grading out as Pro Football Focus' No. 27 LB among 89 qualifiers.
Should the Broncos lure Vander Esch's defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn, to the Mile High City, it stands to reason the 26-year-old (in February) may follow. Quinn is expected to interview next week for the head-coaching job, and numerous insiders have labeled him the favorite to succeed Vic Fangio.
If only to help install Quinn's system, there are few better choices — inexpensive, veteran choices — than LVE.
“Leighton is such a consistent player for us," Quinn said after Dallas' Week 4 victory against Carolina, per beat reporter Calvin Watkins. "He’s rarely out of position. He’s an excellent communicator, he’s a good tackler. You just feel his size and length when he’s in there so I was pleased with Leighton in this game.”
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