The Washington Commanders could use help at linebacker. Leighton Vander Esch should be a target in free agency.
The Washington Commanders now have a new name, a new logo, and some new uniforms. However, there is a lot of work to be done if they want to get back to winning ways. A pretty disastrous 2021 season showed the multiple holes on the roster.
One of those holes came on the defensive end. Particularly, help is needed at linebacker. Jamin Davis was a first-round draft pick last season. However, he didn’t have a very good rookie season. He showed some promise at the end of the year but that was when he was being used in roles outside of middle linebacker.
Davis looked more comfortable on the outside and was being used as a rusher. That means the Commanders still don’t have anyone for that middle spot. Cole Holcomb isn’t bad in coverage but he has his flaws. David Mayo was solid in coverage but shouldn’t go into the year in a starting role. Jon Bostic’s strength doesn’t come there either.
It’s not just coverage though. You want someone in the middle that can do it all. Pressure the quarterback, stop the run, protect the middle, and hold his own in coverage. Washington simply doesn’t have someone in their linebacker corps that can do that.
Let’s get Landry out of the way right now. He just racked up 12 sacks for the Tennessee Titans in 2021. It’s hard to see Tennessee not bringing him back. And even if they don’t that price tag is probably going to be hefty.
Now Vander Esch is a little bit different. In 2018 he was a standout rookie for the Dallas Cowboys. Injuries limited him in 2019 and 2020 though. 2021 was the first year that he played a full slate of games since his rookie season.
Vander Esch wasn’t nearly as dominant this year though. Despite playing in 17 games, he recorded just 77 tackles. That’s barely half of the 140 he had in 16 games in 2018 and it’s only five more than he had in nine games in 2019. He did add a sack, an interception, two pass deflections, and four tackles for loss though.
Overall, it was a really solid season. He brings it all to the table. But it was disappointing compared to what people expected from him. Due to that, this is sort of a “buy-low” scenario. No, Washington isn’t going to get Vander Esch on some minimum-type deal. However, they might be able to ink him to a multi-year contract for a reasonable price tag.
Other teams are going to be in on Vander Esch. But this is something the Commanders need to focus on.
The play of their linebackers has been somewhat of a weakness for the team in the past few seasons. Vander Esch has the potential to fix that. He’s not perfect right now, but he’s shown in the past that he can be dominant. It’s not some “distant” past either. He’s coming off a down year where he was coming back from an injury. It’s expected that he wouldn’t be perfect.
This isn’t the only issue with Washington’s defense. In 2021 the only player that you can really say showed out was Jonathan Allen. Everyone else had some glaring flaws. No one player is going to solve all their problems.
That being said, if you needed to solve a bunch of problems on defense at one time – middle linebacker is the way to go. Leighton Vander Esch has the versatility to do it all. If the Washington Commanders want to start this new era winning, snatching him up in free agency is only going to help.