The Cowboys still have a chance to book a playoff berth, but they will go the rest of the way without one of their top defenders. Leighton Vander Esch‘s lengthy absence will continue into the offseason. He will miss Week 17 and be shut down for the season’s remainder, Jason Garrett confirmed Monday.
Vander Esch, however, will not need major surgery before returning in the offseason. The second-year linebacker underwent testing recently, and Jane Slater of NFL.com reports (via Twitter) the results indicated a need for a minimally invasive surgery. Vander Esch is expected to recover from his neck injury long before training camp, Slater adds.
This season obviously did not go as well for the first-round pick, who was one of the top rookies from a strong 2018 class. Nerve damage sidelined Vander Esch for the Cowboys’ past five games. He missed two other Dallas games this season due to injury as well. After a 140-tackle rookie slate that produced a Pro Bowl invite, Vander Esch will close his sophomore campaign with 72. But the Boise State alum remains an essential piece for the Cowboys going forward.
The Cowboys have used veteran Sean Lee more in Vander Esch’s absence, moving Joe Thomas into their starting lineup as well. Lee, Thomas and Jaylon Smith are expected to start in Dallas’ regular-season finale against the Redskins, a game the Cowboys must win while hoping the Giants can upset the Eagles.
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