The Dallas Cowboys surprised some on Thursday night when the team selected former Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons with the 12th overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. The draft’s top two corners — Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II — were both already off the board by the time that Dallas initially came onto the clock.

Dallas decided to trade down after watching both Horn and Surtain go off the board. Philadelphia traded up for Alabama wide receiver Devonta Smith, and the Cowboys received a third-round draft pick in the process. The Cowboys got the guy they likely would have taken at 10 two picks later and added an additional top-100 selection.

Northwestern offensive lineman Rashawn Slater was still available for the Cowboys to take — both at 10 and then again at 12. Slater was the best available player on the board, and many expect the Cowboys to address the offensive line at some point during the draft. It was a bit of a surprise for Dallas to pass on the talented lineman.

The Cowboys ultimately went with the draft’s top linebacker with their first-round draft pick. Parsons is an athletic defender that starred in Happy Valley during his freshman and sophomore seasons. The former five-star recruit opted out of the 2020 college season, but his talent has never been the question.

There are some questions about Parsons off the field, and the decision to take an off-ball linebacker in the top-15 isn’t the best use of resources. As a pure football player, Parsons is oozing with potential.


Dallas Cowboys
Aug 29, 2019; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Jaylon Smith (54) and outside linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (55) on the field before the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Linebacker has become a sneaky need for the Cowboys this offseason. Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith are two players with injury histories that haven’t always performed as well as the Cowboys would like. Joe Thomas left for the Texans in free agency, and Sean Lee decided to call it a career earlier this week.

That made linebacker a logical choice for Dallas at some point during the weekend. At the very least, the Cowboys needed to add another body or two to the position unit. Vander Esch has struggled to stay on the field, and Smith cannot carry the load by himself.

The fact that the Cowboys selected a linebacker in the first-round potentially shows what the team’s plans are for Leighton Vander Esch. LVE was the Cowboys’ first-round draft pick in 2018, and Dallas has a decision to make about the Boise State’s fifth-year option this offseason.

Dallas has until May 3rd to pick up Vander Esch’s fifth-year or not. That means that the Cowboys will have to make a very quick decision following the draft’s conclusion.

Cowboys VP Stephen Jones recently said that the team will have “deep discussions” about Vander Esch’s fifth-year option following the draft. The fact that the team just spent a premium pick on a player at the same position as LVE is very telling about where the Cowboys are leaning.

Furthermore, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport expects Dallas to decline Vander Esch’s option. That would make the 2021 season a contract-year for the 18th overall pick of the 2018 draft. With Vander Esch’s injury history and a new defensive coordinator in town, that makes some sense for Dallas.

There are definitely some mixed emotions about the Micah Parsons selection. Many were hoping that the Cowboys would end up with a top corner in the draft. Another portion of the fan base would have liked Dallas to address the offensive line — especially with Slater sitting right there for the taking.

One thing is clear, though: the Cowboys are sold on Micah Parsons, and that undoubtedly puts Leighton Vander Esch’s long-term future with team in question.

Featured image via David Dermer/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports
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