FRISCO, TX — The loss of Leighton Vander Esch to injury creates a cavernous void in both on-the-field play and in the continued mentoring of the young linebacker corps, so it's a no-brainer the Dallas Cowboys reach into free agency to grab Rashaan Evans — a former first-round pick who is no stranger to performing under pressure on a big stage.
The Alabama product wants to be a rising Tide that lifts all boats in Dallas.
"Sh-t, I could play this week if I wanted to," said Evans on Thursday, following his first practice with the team.
That's likely true, but the final decision will be made by head coach Mike McCarthy, as Evans readily admits, as they see how he progresses in practices this week ahead of a critical matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday night.
"At the end of the day, it's all about the coaches' [decision] as far as what they want to do schematically," he added. "I'm trying to take it as slow as possible. It's always a preparation situation when coming from being on the couch to full-fledged football. I'm actually enjoying the process of getting back to work and doing the little things to prepare for a game."
Evans, 27, is a two-time national champ who is no stranger to getting the job done, and he joins the Cowboys having produced in 67 starts through his first five seasons, and that includes posting career-high numbers in both combined tackles (159), solo tackles (86), pass break ups (4) and fumble recoveries.
Asked what's the biggest attribute he brings to Dallas, he was unequivocal.
"Physicality," he said. "I try not to be too savvy in my words about my play, and I try to leave it up to what I've shown on TV, but I can't wait for that opportunity to come."
Along with that comes an opportunity, as noted above, to mentor players like Damone Clark and Malik Jefferson, as well as Mikel Jones on the practice squad and even safety Markquese Bell, who is getting a ton of work with the linebackers in 2023.
"It's absolutely [important, especially for the young guys," said the former All-SEC talent. "I try to give them advice about my own career and about preparing for a game, and the standard that comes with the game. … Just have patience with yourself. As soon as I got into the facility, they were already asking, 'Why were you out?'
"I told them, 'That's just the league, man. It's a business at the end of the day, so make sure you're prepared at all times.'"
It is a business indeed, as evidenced by the fact Evans began the month of September with the Philadelphia Eagles before being released — opting to then wait for the right opportunity to present itself before inking another deal. After choosing to part ways with his former agent and signing with new representation, he was met with a call from the Cowboys.
He couldn't say yes fast enough.
"It means a lot for the Cowboys to see something in me and bring me onboard," he said. "It's an exciting moment for me. … It won't take me too much [to get up to speed]. I've been training all season to be a part of somebody's team. And now that I have an opportunity to be a part of the Cowboys, I'm ready whenever they're ready."
There's also the added motivation of his family, as Evans explained.
"It's funny to have an opportunity to play for the Cowboys because my mom loves [them], my family loves [them] and they're very excited for me to be a part of this organization."
This is not the first time the two sides have had talks.
In 2018, he and the Cowboys had a visit heading into that year's NFL draft. The former First-Team All-American would later see the linebacker-needy Cowboys select, guess who, Leighton Vander Esch with the 19th-overall selection, leading to the Tennessee Titans taking Evans off of the board three picks later at 22nd-overall.
Five years later, Evans is in Dallas to help fill the void created by an injury to Vander Esch.
"They were definitely one of the teams I would've loved to play for and it's so funny how things come full circle, to be able to have the opportunity now to come play for the Cowboys," said Evans. "… As soon as they made that call, I immediately got on that plane."
As for what he witnessed on Sunday night from the confines of his home in Atlanta, Evans is not only starved to get onto the field to help the Cowboys right their defensive ship, but he also doesn't believe the 42-point explosion by the 49ers is indicative of what Dallas' defense truly is.
"I still think this is an elite defense," he said. "Anywhere that I can try to fit in and help out, that's what I'm here to do. "... I'm a rep guy. I like to have a lot of reps, so even if we weren't preparing for another game, I would love to be able to go out there and have a lot of reps to get a feel for the game, and to get back into the groove of football. Missing as much time as I have, I wanna try and get the pads on as soon as possible — get your feel of making tackles, get your feel of being in zone coverage and doing all of the stuff you normally do as a football player."
He'll get a bigger taste of Cowboys' practice on Friday, which is treated as a Thursday this week due to the next contest not occurring until Monday, but for those wondering if he'll need a long ramp-up period before suiting up in a regular season game, the answer is simple.
No, he won't.
"I have a lot of confidence in myself," he said. "I've played a lot in the league so far, so whenever I was gonna get picked up to play, I knew I was gonna be ready."
The verdict is out on if that will be tested against the Chargers, but given what he brings to the table, it's certainly possible the Cowboys let him eat in Los Angeles. If not, there's a bye week to follow, and that would aim him toward making his Dallas debut when the other team from Los Angeles visits AT&T Stadium in Week 8.
The Cowboys' linebacker corps couldn't be more thrilled to have Evans on board, and the feeling is most certainly mutual.