Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch announces retirement due to injury

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch had a promising start to his careeer, but injuries ultimately forced his retirement.

New England Patriots v Dallas Cowboys
New England Patriots v Dallas Cowboys / Richard Rodriguez/GettyImages
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Former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch announced his retirement on Monday. He battled through numerous injuries during his six-year career with the Cowboys, who released him with a failed physical designation last week.

"I realize that I am no longer able to adhere to the unwavering standard of excellence that professional football demands," Vander Esch said in a statement. "I say this with a heavy heart: I am medically retiring from the NFL. I love the game of football so much, and my body won't cooperate any longer. 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."

Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch announces retirement

The Cowboys selected Leighton Vander Esch with the 19th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and the inside linebacker made an immediate impact. He earned second-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in his rookie season. In 11 starts, he compiled two interceptions and seven passes defensed. His 176 tackles set a rookie franchise record.

Vander Esch immediately became beloved by the fans. His sledgehammer style, downhill tackling and neck roll were reminiscent of a more physical era of football. But the linebacker's promising career was derailed by injuries. Vander Esch underwent a fusion procedure after missing the final nine games of his sophomore campaign due to a neck injury. The following year, a broken collarbone limited him to just 10 games. Vander Esch was finally able to play through an entire season in 2021, but neck injuries threatened his health in the following two years.

Vander Esch was born with a condition called cervical spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column in the neck. The condition increases neck sensitivity and risk to herniated disks. While the medical condition kept him from being on the field, he attended games and mentored the team's young players.

Vander Esch retires after playing in 71 regular season games and amassing 469 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 13 passes defensed and three forced fumbles. He undoubtedly would have compiled more accolades if his health permitted it.

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