Detroit Lions should absolutely avoid overpaying Leighton Vander Esch in free agency

SideLion Report

Leighton Vander Esch has been named a free agent fit for the Detroit Lions, but here’s why they should absolutely avoid signing him.

The Detroit Lions could use reinforcements on all three levels of their defense. At linebacker, Alex Anzalone is a free agent and an upgrade alongside Malcolm Rodriguez may be sought. A significant dip into free agency, with solid cap space right now and a viable path to adding a lot more, would be well-reasoned.

Pro Football Focus (subscription required) has named team fits for each of its top-50 2023 NFL free agents. The Lions were deemed the fit for one of them, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.

Hat-tip to Heavy.com:

Pairing Vander Esch’s size over the middle with rookie sixth-round Hard Knocks wunderkind Malcolm Rodriguez, who is undersized but makes up for it with his tenacity, could be a solid pairing at off-ball linebacker for the Lions if Alex Anzalone departs in free agency,”

The former first-rounder had his best season since his rookie campaign, missing a career-low 6.5% of his tackles and allowing just 0.49 yards per coverage snap, which led all off-ball linebackers in 2022,”

NFL Free Agency: Why the Lions should not sign Leighton Vander Esch

Vander Esch had a fine 2022 season for the Dallas Cowboys, with 90 total tackles, four tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble and one pass breakup. But that’s all it was–fine. The noted PFF numbers are nice though.

But Vander Esch also missed the final three games of the regular season with a shoulder injury. He he has missed at least three games in three of the last four seasons.

In 2021, the one season in the last four where he played every game, he wasn’t notably productive (77 total tackles, four tackles for loss, one interception, two pass breakups, no fumbles forced or recovered). His rookie season, 2018, stands as his best season (140 total tackles–102 solo, seven pass breakups, two interceptions).

Vander Esch made just $2 million this past season, as the Cowboys declined his fifth-year option but circled back to re-sign him at that bargain rate last offseason. He’s in line for a raise, naturally, and at 27 years old some teams may be willing to give him a nice-looking multi-year deal.

But one of those teams should not be the Lions. They’d be better off just re-signing Anzalone, or going above or below Vander Esch’s price point to replace Anzalone.

Detroit should not be the team who overpays Vander Esch, coming off a season that requires citing a couple deeper numbers to look good. And it won’t take much to get to where it’d be overpaying.

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