The Dallas Cowboys have received “exploratory” trade inquiries from other NFL teams regarding Leighton Vander Esch, a source tells, but Dallas has no plan to trade the linebacker.

And Vander Esch himself is comfortable with that plan.

"I've got nothing but respect for the Joneses," Vander Esch says. "They're the ones that took a chance on me (making him a first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft) to begin with. So, I trust in their plan.”

That plan: For a healthy Vander Esch to be the starting weak-side linebacker in 2021 … and maybe even to discuss with him and agent Ron Slavin the idea of a contract extension.

Says COO Stephen Jones: “We’d like to keep Leighton around here for the next four or five years.”

That statement seems counterintuitive to some critics who fail to understand that the clubs recent declining of his fifth-year option (which would’ve paid him $9..1 million in 2022) means they are done with the player.

Rather, they are simply unsure about finance, fit and health projecting a year out. So the Cowboys will let things play out - things that include the possibility of rookie Micah Parsons quickly taking over at middle linebacker and things like Jaylon Smith possibly playing just one more season in Dallas before his rich contract offers some escapability.

For the record, Vander Esch and Smith figured prominently in Dallas’ first-team defensive work at OTAs practice on Thursday, Vander Esch recording a nifty interception - and the two of them starting together.

So, for right now? Dallas has built a talented linebackers room, even in the wake of Sean Lee’s retirement - and there is no reason to hurriedly pull the plug on what this group might become.

“I think it’s fun,” says Vander Esch of “competing with each other, not against each other. I think that’s the thing about being a good teammate. You’re not trying to compete against somebody that’s on your team. You’re trying to compete with them and I think that makes everyone better.”

So Vander Esch’s relationship with the other linebackers is healthy. And so is his relationship with his decision-making bosses.

“I think we have a great thing going,” Vander Esch says with a bow to the Cowboys front office. “Our relationship is amazing.”

And the Cowboys plan, trade calls and rumors aside, is to keep that plan in place.

This article first appeared on FanNation Cowboy Maven and was syndicated with permission.

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