Why the Houston Texans should sign Leighton Vander Esch in free agency

The Houston Texans need help in the 2022 free agency period, but don't they have a ton of money. Leighton Vander Esch could be an answer.

One look at the Houston Texans’ roster will make you wonder if they can sign ALL of the free agents in the 2022 free agency period. However, they’re still in a bit of a financial bind after Bill O’Brien’s reign as the Texans czar. Unfortunately, the big names are practically out of the question for Houston. There are two moves they could make, though. Sign Leighton Vander Esch in free agency, and reunite him with Maliek Collins, who was a Texan last season.

Why Leighton Vander Esch is a fit for the Houston Texans

It’s an obvious monetary fit, given Houston currently possesses only $4 million in effective cap space. The Texans have $17 million in cap space but must sign at least eight players to round out their 53-man roster. So, although it appears they have some money to spend, a significant amount of that money has to go to groceries before spending it at the mall.

Aside from that, the Texans need linebacker help in a bad way. Both Christian Kirksey and Kamu Grugier-Hill are unrestricted free agents. Also, Vander Esch posted a second-team All-Pro season as a rookie in 2018 on a defense that had a scheme similar to what Lovie Smith has implemented in Houston.

Putting Vander Esch in attack mode is his best fit

Smith has coached linebackers like Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and Derrick Brooks. In 2018, you could find tweets likening Vander Esch to Urlacher. He had the size and athleticism to attack downhill and run the pole in Tampa 2 looks.

Vander Esch tested as one of the best linebackers ever. The Thad Castle lookalike scored a 9.98 RAS at 256 pounds. He was a freaky athlete at the position. In fact, he’s everything Smith looks for in a linebacker for the Texans.

“Our linebackers need to be able to play excellent zone coverage, man coverage, and of course make a lot of tackles. It takes a certain type of athlete to do that. We talk as a whole, just what we’re looking for, we want to have a fast defense.”

The Cowboys changed their defensive philosophy in 2020, and Vander Esch was hurt for portions of both 2019 and 2020. We saw the best version of LVE since 2018 under Dan Quinn. Although he’s not a good blitzing linebacker, Vander Esch can survive in coverage.

So, what’s the catch?

Injury concerns cloud his overall worth

This is a low-risk, high-reward signing. Vander Esch came to the NFL with concerns regarding his neck. In 2019, he landed on injured reserve with a pinched nerve in the said neck. Then, in 2020, Vander Esch suffered various injuries that cost him six games throughout the season.

His underlying health concerns are a big reason he’ll be affordable for the Texans during the 2022 free agency period. However, Vander Esch began working with trainer Chad Marr after the 2020 season, who revealed it was actually Vander Esch’s hips and quads causing his neck issues.

Vander Esch played in all 18 games for the Dallas Cowboys in 2021. But he wasn’t the same player we saw in 2018.

Nevertheless, he could return to that level. And if he ever does, his third contract will be massive. But Vander Esch didn’t look like that 9.98 RAS athlete he once was. If he has an entire offseason to continue the work on his flexibility, health, and athleticism, he could be a whole problem for offenses in Smith’s system in Houston.

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