Former Dallas Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch announces retirement


FRISCO – Just a few days after being released by the Dallas Cowboys, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has announced he is retiring from the NFL due to neck issues.

“Today is a difficult day for me, but it is also a day of reflection and gratitude,” Vander Esch posted on social media.

He was released with a failed physical designation after missing 12 games with a neck injury in 2023. The injury was the fourth since 2019 involving the 28-year-old’s neck and was considered career-threatening.

“I realize that I am no longer able to adhere to the unwavering standard of excellence that professional football demands,” he continued.

After the first neck injury in 2019, Vander Esch was diagnosed with a narrow spinal column and underwent fusion surgery. The latest injury happened when he was pushed from behind in Week 5 against San Francisco last year and jammed his neck into teammate Micah Parsons’ right leg.

Vander Esch had issues with his neck at Boise State before the Cowboys drafted him in the first round, and he set a club rookie record with 176 tackles while making his only Pro Bowl.

“Seldom do you come across a player like Leighton, who grew up playing eight-man football only to first play the 11-man game at the major collegiate level and excel,” said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. “His passion and love for the game was contagious, and from the moment he arrived, he has been a difference maker. His grit, toughness, motivation, determination and football IQ will be sorely missed. Leighton also embodied the strong character and personal qualities that make him much more than an accomplished player.

Vander Esch was a first-round draft pick in 2018 and has spent his entire pro career in Dallas.