Former Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch will miss the rest of the NFL season with a neck injury, and his career may be in jeopardy, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said during a radio interview Tuesday.
Vander Esch has been on injured reserve since Oct. 8 when he suffered a neck injury in a loss to the 49ers. He was eligible to rejoin the active roster this week, but he has lingering symptoms. Those symptoms and the potential for further injury will keep Vander Esch sidelined, Jones said.
“He’s an integral part of that defense out there,” Jones said. “We just wish him well, and just the nature of his potential injury here causes me to really think longer term and beyond what it means for next week or beyond what it means for next month. It has everything to do with what’s best in his interest.”
The 27-year-old Riggins native has a history of neck injuries, which is prompting concerns that his career could be over.
Vander Esch was dealing with neck issues from his Boise State career when the Cowboys picked him in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He led Dallas with 140 tackles and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, but he missed seven of the final nine games in 2019 because of a neck injury.
He had surgery to fuse vertebrae in his neck after the 2019 season, but he injured his neck again in 2021. He also missed the Cowboys’ final three games last season with a stinger.
Dallas signed Vander Esch to a new two-year deal worth up to $11 million earlier this year.
Vander Esch played at Boise State from 2014 to 2017 and was named Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year in his final season.