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Cowboys release Leighton Vander Esch amid threat of career-ending neck injury

Cowboys release Leighton Vander Esch amid threat of career-ending neck injury

Tooba Shakir 1 month ago 0

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The Dallas Cowboys made the decision to release linebacker Leighton Vander Esch on Friday.

Dallas is the only team the 28-year-old has played for in the NFL, as the Cowboys selected him with the 19th overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft.

But neck injuries, dating all the way back to college, have limited him from tapping into his true potential.

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Leighton Vander Esch leaves a game due to injury

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch walks off after suffering an injury during the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, on Oct. 8, 2023. (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Vander Esch was named to the Pro Bowl and a second-team All-Pro in his rookie season, but underwent spinal fusion surgery in his second season, limiting him to just nine games.

Collarbone and neck injuries kept him out of six games in 2020, but he played a full season the following year. He missed four games in 2022 with a stinger in his neck, and then another neck injury following an awkward collision with teammate Micah Parsons caused him to miss the final 12 games last season.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones admitted he wasn’t sure if Vander Esch’s latest injury was career-ending, but there seemed to be some doubts about it.

Leighton Vander Esch warms up before a game

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is seen on the field before the game against the New England Patriots at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Oct. 1, 2023. (Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

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“Let’s just put it like this, I don’t know,” he said at the time. “There are a lot of factors involved. But he just really needs to see how this continues to heal, and then go from that point as to whether or not he would want to continue to say, expose himself to injury.”

Vander Esch has worn a neck guard throughout his career.

In part because of the neck issues, Dallas declined the fifth-year option on Vander Esch’s rookie contract but brought him back in 2022 on a one-year deal. He had one year remaining on a two-year contract.

The Cowboys on Friday signed his replacement in linebacker Eric Kendricks, who initially chose the San Francisco 49ers in free agency before changing his mind. The 32-year-old will be reunited with new Dallas defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who was Kendricks’ head coach in Minnesota for his first seven NFL seasons.

Leighton Vander Esch goes down

San Francisco 49ers running back Jordan Mason runs past Dallas Cowboys linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Micah Parsons during the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, on Oct. 8, 2023. (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

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Dallas on Friday also released receiver Michael Gallup, who was a third-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft. Gallup had his only 1,000-yard season in 2019, scoring six touchdowns. However, he had just six touchdowns in his final two seasons combined, as wide receivers CeeDee Lamb and Brandin Cooks joined the fray in recent years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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