Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch (neck) retiring

By Thomson Reuters Mar 18, 2024 | 2:47 PM

Former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch announced Monday that he is medically retiring from the NFL after six seasons.

The team released the 28-year-old veteran on Friday with a failed physical designation due to a lingering neck injury.

“I love the game of football so much, and my body won’t cooperate any longer,” Vander Esch said in a statement released by the Cowboys. “I cherished every moment of my NFL career, and it has been such a blessing to play the game for as long as I have played.”

In 71 career NFL games (65 starts) with the Cowboys, the 2018 first-round draft pick had 469 tackles, 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and three interceptions. He was a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie in 2018.

“Seldom do you come across a player like Leighton, who grew up playing eight-man football only to first play the 11-man game at the major collegiate level and excel,” said Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones. “His passion and love for the game was contagious, and from the moment he arrived, he has been a difference maker. His grit, toughness, motivation, determination and football IQ will be sorely missed. Leighton also embodied the strong character and personal qualities that make him much more than an accomplished player.

“He was a leader and the kind of teammate that impacted those around him in the best ways. Leighton’s playing career may have come to an end, but his future is very bright. On behalf of the entire Dallas Cowboys organization, we’re proud that he wore the star on his helmet.”

He missed the final 12 games last season with his latest neck injury, sustained in a Week 5 loss at San Francisco when 49ers left tackle Trent Williams blocked Vander Esch into the side of Dallas linebacker Micah Parsons on a fourth-quarter play. Vander Esch had his head down as he made contact with Parsons and fell to the turf.

Vander Esch also sustained a neck injury in 2016 while at Boise State and a more serious one with Dallas in 2019. He had a neck operation in 2020 to fix nerve issues.

–Field Level Media