Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch‘s season with the Dallas Cowboys is over, but there is also a bigger concern about the former first-round draft pick’s career following the neck injury he suffered five weeks into the 2023 season. Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones confirmed on Tuesday that Vander Esch won’t return this season and noted that his future in the sport is potentially at risk but there are “a lot of factors involved.”
“We had just completely left it up to how he was evolving, but of course it’s such a very significant loss for us,” Jones told the hosts of 105.3 The Fan on Tuesday. “He’s an integral part of that defense out there.
“We just wish him well, and just the nature of his potential injury here causes me to really think longer term and beyond what it means for next week or beyond what it means for next month. It has everything to do with what’s best in his interest.”
Last week, Cowboys EVP Stephen Jones also hinted that the star linebacker wouldn’t return this season, but he didn’t suggest the injury is career-ending.
Injuries to the neck area have been an ongoing concern for Vander Esch since the 2019 season when he missed seven games. A former first-round selection out of Boise State, he is in his sixth season with Dallas. He also missed time last year because of a neck injury.
Cowboys face remainder of 2023 season without Vander Esch
Through the first five games of the 2023 season, Vander Esch tallied 30 tackles, including 17 solo stops. He has also recovered one fumble.
In the offseason, the Cowboys inked Vander Esch to a two-year deal worth $11 million with $5 million guaranteed and a $2.5 million signing bonus. That contract agreement came in March after spending the 2022 campaign on a one-year deal.
Since the starting middle linebacker has been out, Markquese Bell and Damone Clark have been stepping up. Bell has 43 tackles so far this season, including 3.5 tackles for loss. Lined up next to him, Clark has 60 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss. Clark is in his second year out of LSU. The Cowboys drafted him in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
To help with depth issues, the Cowboys elevated linebacker Rashaan Evans from the practice squad for gameday against the Rams, Eagles and Giants.