Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch looked like a huge part of the team's future after his rookie season in 2018.
The first-round pick from Boise State played in every game, starting 11 of them, and registered 140 tackles. But over the past two seasons combined, Vander Esch recorded just 132 tackles, diminishing his value.
Now he faces three challenges: How much does he play? How much can he get paid? And most of all, can he stay healthy?
Vander Esch had in some ways become a shell of who he once was, thanks to injuries that have limited his abilities and availabilities. He spent the offseason remaking his frame - "body armor,'' he called his weight-room adds - and he does look even more physically impressive that before.
"You have to prove yourself every year," said the 6-4, 246-pound Vander Esch. "You have to prove yourself every snap. Otherwise, you ain't going to last long. That's the mindset you got to have, because if you don't have that and you're not out there trying to do your best for your teammates and hold yourself to those standards of doing your job every single play and as close to professional as you can, why are you even out there?"
Dallas does want Vander Esch "out there.'' But ... It has gotten to the point where the Cowboys have shown signs that the team is ready to move on from the former Pro Bowler (following this year) by declining his fifth-year option and drafting his potential long-term replacement in Micah Parsons with the 12th pick in this year's draft.
Is Cowboys' Trevon Diggs on Verge of Stardom?
Dallas might have a budding superstar in its secondary
Cowboys' Legs Kick Chargers to Curb
Two impressive performances helped Dallas beat the Chargers 20-17 on Sunday.
Creative Quinn Helping Cowboys' Defense Create Takeaways, Win Games
Interceptions by Trevon Diggs, Damontae Kazee Push Cowboys Past Chargers, 2020's Turnover Pace
The Cowboys don't want to fully move on from Vander Esch, but the team is certainly beginning to prepare for life without him.
He's got one more shot to prove that he is worthy of a second contract with the Cowboys and he's off to a great start one week into training camp.
In this episode of the "Locked On Cowboys" Podcast, Marcus Mosher and Landon McCool discuss Vander Esch's strong camp and what to expect from him in the 2021 NFL season.
The guys also talk about veteran cornerback Anthony Brown's value (as rookie Kelvin Joseph is starting to come on) and whether the team will shuffle around the secondary with trades before the season starts.
Marcus and Landon deal with all that more on this episode of "Locked On Cowboys." Join us here!
CONTINUE READING: Buffalo Bills 'Threaten' To Move To Cowboys Country - Austin, Texas?