Letting Vander Esch, Wilson test FA market wise move for Cowboys

As things appear now, it seems the Cowboys would like to retain free agents Donovan Wilson and Leighton Vander Esch. Wilson, a safety, was one of their biggest playmakers of the 2022 season. Vander Esch, their top linebacker, was a reliable presence in the middle, posting his best season since his rookie campaign.

Both players were instrumental in Dallas’ success in 2022 and both would be sorely missed if they left in free agency this off-season. But just because the Cowboys want to have them back, doesn’t mean they will come back. Details matter and when details mean money, they matter quite a bit.

One of the worst things a franchise can do in free agency is over-valuing their own players. This somewhat natural instinct can be a costly mistake, impacting the spending power and overall long-term health of the ball club.

When the Cowboys look at Vander Esch, they likely see a guy who was their top pick in 2018. A former Pro Bowler who played a significant role on defense and a guy who’s coming off the second-best season of his career.

Outside teams may see him differently. They may see a player with long-term health risks. They could see a player who had more average-to-poor than good seasons. They may see a player who’s only interesting at the right price.

Wilson is in a similar situation. The fifth-year safety was a splash-play machine in the box last season. He was a big hitter, emotional tone-setter and difference maker in both phases of the game. Dallas likely sees him as one of the most important cogs in Dan Quinn’s machine. They could see him as someone who embodies the attitude of the defense and someone a franchise can build around.

Again, outside teams may see him differently. They may see a player who’s had trouble staying on the field throughout his career. They could see a guy who was nothing more than No. 3 in Dallas’ safety hierarchy. They may see a great complementary player but not a reliable cornerstone to build around.

Who has it right in this scenario, the Cowboys or the rest of the league?

A player is worth whatever the market pays him, but smart teams don’t offer significantly more than the rest of the market.

Testing the market is risky. It allows another team to swoop in and take a player Dallas would like to keep; it only takes one team willing to go the extra mile to turn this strategy on its head. But it also protects the Cowboys from overspending. It allows them to gauge the demand and find a suitable figure for both player and team.

Dallas employed this strategy with safety Jayron Kearse last off-season. Kearse was their leading tackler, Quinn’s back-seven chess piece and a team leader. But they tested him against the market and came to an agreement.

It appears to be the same plan for Vander Esch and Wilson.

They seem to want to keep both players but the price has to be right for the team. Both players seem to want to come back to Dallas but the price has to be right to the players. It’s perfectly reasonable for these players to want to maximize their value and test the market. It may even benefit the Cowboys when all is said and done.

It will be tough if Dallas loses either Vander Esch or Wilson in free agency, but they’re probably doing the smart thing by testing the market and avoiding the temptation of proactively overpaying.


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Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire