Ex-Cowboys Linebacker Announces Retirement

Health concerns prompt unexpected end to promising NFL career.

by Nouman Rasool
Ex-Cowboys Linebacker Announces Retirement
© Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

In an unexpected turn of events that shook the Dallas Cowboys community last week, the team made the difficult decision to release two key players, wide receiver Michael Gallup and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, in an effort to align with salary cap requirements.

This decision, particularly the release of Vander Esch, now appears to be less surprising in the wake of recent developments. NFL Network's esteemed reporter, Ian Rapoport, has revealed that Leighton Vander Esch is stepping away from professional football, citing medical reasons for his early retirement.

Vander Esch's six-year tenure in the NFL, marked by notable highs and challenging lows, ultimately concludes with concerns over his health taking precedence. Drafted in the first round by the Cowboys in 2018, Vander Esch's potential was evident from his debut season.

However, a neck injury sustained in Week 5 of the previous season sidelined him for the remainder of his life, casting a shadow over his future in the sport. This wasn't Vander Esch's first encounter with neck issues; a similar injury during his time at Boise State had already forced him to adopt additional protective gear, highlighting the persistent nature of his condition.

Vander Esch Retires Early

At 28, Vander Esch's premature retirement underscores the harsh realities many athletes face, sacrificing their careers for the sake of their health. Throughout his career, Vander Esch amassed impressive stats, including 469 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and three interceptions.

He earned a Pro Bowl selection in his rookie year a testament to his skill and dedication to the game. Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones expressed his respect and admiration for Vander Esch, emphasizing the linebacker's contribution to the team and the sport.

"We're proud that he wore the star on his helmet," Jones commented, reflecting the sentiment of the Cowboys' organization and its fans. In preparation for Vander Esch's departure, the Cowboys have acted swiftly to secure a replacement, welcoming Eric Kendricks, a former player for the Chargers and Vikings.

Kendricks, who boasts a commendable record of his own, including 117 tackles in his last season, was persuaded to join the Cowboys over other contenders, thanks in part to the influence of new defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.

Zimmer, familiar with Kendricks' capabilities, sees him as a pivotal figure in shaping the Cowboys' defensive strategy moving forward.