Leighton Vander Esch with ‘heavy heart’ announces retirement after six injury-stricken seasons at Cowboys

For many athletes, staying in top physical shape during the course of a career is a difficult challenge. Leighton Vander Esch of the Dallas Cowboys faced a challenging reality, as he battled a series of injuries that began in college and continued throughout his NFL career.

While linebackers like Junior Seau managed to thrive in the NFL until the age of 40, Vander Esch recently announced his retirement after just six seasons in the league, primarily due to recurring injury concerns.

Leighton Vander Esch announce retirement

Leighton Vander Esch has made the difficult decision to retire from the NFL due to ongoing neck problems. It is clear that his love for the game played a significant role in this choice. The beloved linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys shared his deep love for football and reminisced about his treasured moments in the NFL, expressing gratitude for the blessings he received throughout his career in his farewell statement.

“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.”

The retirement announcement came as the linebacker was released with a failed physical designation by the Dallas Cowboys. He has one year remaining on a subsequent two-year contract.

LVE was drafted by the Cowboys in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, per NFL.com. Since then, he has quickly made an impact, earning second-team All-Pro honors and a Pro Bowl selection in his rookie season. However, recurring injuries, particularly a persistent neck issue, hampered his promising career trajectory and ultimately led to his decision to leave professional football.

Throughout his tenure with the Cowboys, Vander Esch showcased his defensive prowess, accumulating impressive statistics, including 557 tackles in 71 regular-season games. 

Leighton Vander Esch’s constant struggles with neck injuries

Since his time as a student at Boise State, Leighton Vander Esch has struggled with persistent neck problems. His struggles with neck problems were evident during his sophomore season at Boise State, where he was compelled to wear a cowboy collar for added protection.

Upon entering the NFL as a first-round draft pick for the Cowboys, his neck issues persisted, culminating in multiple injury setbacks that sidelined him for significant periods. For these consistent injury issues, he underwent corrective surgery and adopted protective measures. 

The Cowboys decided to bring him back for the 2022 season on a one-year contract due to concerns about his injuries. However, because of his ongoing struggle with neck injuries, his career trajectory remained uncertain.

During a game against the San Francisco 49ers in the 2023 season, Vander Esch sustained a neck injury that proved to be the biggest challenge to date in his career. He was shoved from behind, which caused his neck to collide with the leg of teammate Micah Parsons.

The injury not only ended his past season but also garnered criticism for the 49ers’ Trent Williams. This injury further compounded Vander Esch’s existing neck concerns and raised questions about the viability of his continued participation in professional football.

At last, the 28-year-old has to bid farewell as he confronts the sobering reality of facing a potentially career-ending injury.

Shabiha Akter

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Shabiha, once a casual observer, has morphed into a die-hard NFL fan. She carefully dissects every play, trade, and strategy. Whether it's breaking down game highlights or predicting playoff outcomes, Shabiha is your go-to source for all things NFL.


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