National Football League
Former Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch announces retirement
National Football League

Former Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch announces retirement

Updated Mar. 18, 2024 3:02 p.m. ET

Leighton Vander Esch has announced his retirement from the NFL.

The 28-year-old played his entire career with the Dallas Cowboys, having recorded 469 tackles (269 solo), 13 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks. He also defended 13 passes and forced three fumbles. 

"I realize that I am no longer able to adhere to the unwavering standard of excellence that professional football demands. I say this with a heavy heart: I am medically retiring from the NFL," Vander Esch said in a 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."

"We’re proud that he wore the star on his helmet," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.


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A first-round pick of the team in 2018, Vander Esch, who played eight-man football at his Idaho high school, made an immediate impact with the 'Boys. He earned second-team All-Pro honors, plus a Pro Bowl bid, after posting 140 tackles, seven passes deflected and two picks in his rookie season. 

But injuries – mainly a neck issue – derailed his progression. He first began experiencing neck ailments during his tenure at Boise State, where he began wearing a cowboy collar. He underwent corrective surgery in his second NFL season and suffered a broken collarbone in his third. The latest injury happened when he was pushed from behind in Week 5 against San Francisco last season and jammed his neck into teammate Micah Parsons’ right leg.

Amid injury issues, Dallas declined the fifth-year option on his rookie contract but brought him back in 2022 on a one-year deal. Vander Esch had one year remaining on a two-year contract.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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