Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch announces retirement

Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch announces retirement

The Cowboys’ true cowboy at linebacker for the past six seasons is riding off into the sunset.

Leighton Vander Esch has announced his retirement from the NFL, as first reported by ESPN’s Todd Archer. The 28-year-old was released by the team last week with a failed physical designation, the result of a serious neck injury that brought his 2023 campaign to an early end.

The injury came in a Week 5 loss to San Francisco, when 49ers offensive tackle Trent Williams slung Vander Esch into Cowboys teammate Micah Parsons. The hit ultimately landed the former first-round draft pick on injured reserve. It would be his final play.

“I love the game of football so much, and my body won’t cooperate any longer,” Vander Esch said in a statement. “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.”

Vander Esch had dealt with neck problems since his college days at Boise State. He missed a big chunk of the 2019 season before undergoing surgery in hopes of correcting the issue, a condition called cervical spinal stenosis. That first spinal fusion procedure came with the understanding that a second neck surgery would likely cost him his football career.

“Leighton is exactly the kind of player and person a coach feels very fortunate to have on their team,” said Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy. “His leadership, character, perseverance, dedication and will to win were all at the highest level, not to mention his ability to play the game. Leighton impacted our team beyond defense. He set a tone that served as an example for all of our players about how we want to play. Having a teammate like Leighton is something everyone on our staff and in our locker room valued greatly, and we’re going to miss him.”

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Known as “The Wolf Hunter,” Vander Esch ends his Cowboys career with 557 tackles in 71 regular-season game appearances. He tallied 3.5 sacks, five QB hits, and 13 tackles for loss, while adding 13 passes defended, three interceptions, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries (one of which he returned for his first career touchdown just last season in what would be his final full game).

As a rookie, Vander Esch was named to the Pro Bowl in 2018 and earned second-team All-Pro honors that same year.

“He was a leader and the kind of teammate that impacted those around him in the best ways,” said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. “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, we thank him and we wish all the best to Leighton, his wife, Madalynn, and their young daughter.”

Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire