Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch Expected To Return This Season

The Cowboys will be without a key defender for today’s crucial game against the Eagles, but their linebacking corps should be healthier in the near future. Leighton Vander Esch is inactive for Week 16, though his latest injury is not expected to be season-ending.

[RELATED: Cowboys’ Sam Williams To Miss Week 16]

The veteran exited Dallas’ loss to Jacksonville last Sunday, leading to concerns about another potential neck injury. That issue cost him significant time in 2019, but the diagnosis is more encouraging this time around. Vander Esch is dealing with a shoulder stinger, and his neck is entirely unaffected (Twitter link via Ian Rapoport of NFL Network).

As a result, the 26-year-old is not facing a season-ending absence as he has previously. That is a significant development for the Cowboys, given his importance to their defense. Vander Esch has seen his snap share rise to 79% in 2022, following two straight seasons of decline in that regard. He had played – and started – every contest this year prior to today’s absence. The former first-rounder has totaled a team-leading 90 tackles on the year, the second-highest mark of his career behind only his Pro Bowl rookie campaign.

His play against the run in particular earned Vander Esch interest in a new deal from the Cowboys this past offseason. Dallas had declined his fifth-year option, allowing him to hit free agency for the first time in his career. The Boise State product re-signed on a one-year, $2MM contract to remain with the team. He has proven to be worth that investment this season, serving as an effective role player on a Cowboys defense which ranks eighth in yards allowed and seventh in points against entering today’s action.

While defensive coordinator Dan Quinn stated (via Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News, on Twitter) that Vander Esch will return at some point this season, it remains unclear when that time will come. A loss today would clinch the NFC East title for the Eagles, leaving the final two games of the season a matter of positioning amongst the conference’s other Wild Card teams for the Cowboys. Assuming he is healthy for the beginning of the postseason, at least, though, Vander Esch will once again have an important role to play in January.

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