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Offseason | 2024

LVE retires from NFL, Cowboys issue statement


FRISCO, Texas — Leighton Vander Esch has spent the last several months sorting through one of the biggest decisions of his life. The former Pro Bowl linebacker and Dallas Cowboys' first-round pick suffered a neck injury in October that forced him onto season-ending injured reserve in 2023, an injury that has also now ended his NFL career.

Vander Esch has announced he will retire from football, effective immediately.

"I love the game of football so much, and my body won't cooperate any longer," said the former second-team All-Pro. "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."

Just ahead of Vander Esch's decision, the Cowboys made a roster move to release him with a failed physical designation— owner and general manager Jerry Jones issuing an official statement on news of the retirement.

"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 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.

"He was a leader and the kind of teammate that impacted those around him in the best ways. Leighton's playing career may have come to an end, but his future is very bright. On behalf of the entire Dallas Cowboys organization, we're proud that he wore the star on his helmet, we thank him and we wish all the best to Leighton, his wife, Madalynn, and their young daughter."

Jones' sentiment is echoed loudly throughout the building, including inside of the office of head coach Mike McCarthy.

"Leighton is exactly the kind of player and person a coach feels very fortunate to have on their team," said McCarthy. "His leadership, character, perseverance, dedication and will to win were all at the highest level, not to mention his ability to play the game. Leighton impacted our team beyond defense. He set a tone that served as an example for all of our players about how we want to play.

"Having a teammate like Leighton is something everyone on our staff and in our locker room valued greatly, and we're going to miss him. I wish Leighton, his wife Madalynn and their daughter the best and know that he's going to continue living life to the fullest."

Vander Esch's trajectory as a rookie was aimed due north, his first year in a Cowboys' uniform seeing him earn honors as both a Pro Bowler and All-Pro after being selected with the 19th-overall pick in 2018, along with also being named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team.

That very same season, he'd also set a Cowboys' franchise record for most-ever tackles in a single season by a rookie with 176 combined takedowns. He'd go on to play six seasons in the league, logging 65 starts and racking up 557 career tackles, but also making an impact in quarterback pressures (18), sacks (3.5), interceptions (3), forced (3) and recovered fumbles (1).

A former Ed Block Courage Award winner as well, repeated neck injuries have derailed the career of a promising young talent, as Vander Esch officially waves goodbye to his playing days.

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