FRISCO, Texas – While the Cowboys were once hopeful Leighton Vander Esch could return from injured reserve and play this season, it appears his season is now over.
Cowboys owner/GM Jerry Jones confirmed multiple reports that suggested Vander Esch would not be able to come back this year because of another neck injury he suffered in the Oct. 8 game in San Francisco.
"I would say that is accurate," Jones said on 105.3 'The Fan' Tuesday morning. "We had just completely left it up to how he was evolving. But he's such a significant loss for us. He's an integral part of that defense out there. But we just wish him well. The nature of his potential injury here causes me to really think longer time and beyond what it means for next week or next month, relatively to the team. It has everything to do with his best interest."
Given Jones' comments, combined with the Vander Esch's injury history with his neck, which has already had one surgery and could be looking at another, it's fair to wonder if the linebacker will even be able to return to play next year, or at all.
"Let's just put it like this, I don't know and there are a lot of factors involved," Jones said. "He just really needs to see how this continues to heal and then go from that point as to whether or not he'll want to expose himself to injury."
Vander Esch had neck issues back in college at Boise State, where he missed half of the 2016 season with a pinched nerve in his neck but was still drafted in the first round by the Cowboys in 2018.
Vander Esch made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, but injuries started to surface after that, forcing him to miss seven games in 2019 and six more in 2020, the year he had neck surgery to help fix nerve issues.
Vander Esch missed just four total games in the previous two years and was having a solid season in 2023 before the injury in San Francisco.
In his absence, the Cowboys used a variety of different packages to help replace him, including safety Markquese Bell, newly-signed veteran Rashad Evans and even Micah Parsons has taken less pass-rushing snaps and has played linebacker more in recent weeks.