Leighton Vander Esch

LB Leighton Vander Esch Retires

MARCH 18: Vander Esch announced his retirement on Monday, confirming the expectation that he would be forced to hang up his cleats. This news was further foreshadowed last week when the Cowboys released him. In all, Vander Esch will depart the NFL having played 72 combined regular and postseason games and with $18.25MM in career earnings.

The Cowboys have landed Eric Kendricks in free agency, but further moves will likely be coming to address the linebacker spot. Replacing Vander Esch will now officially be a permanent endeavor.

MARCH 1: Neck issues once again forced Leighton Vander Esch to miss considerable time during the 2023 season. As a result, signs continue to point to the veteran Cowboys linebacker bringing his career to a close.

Vander Esch is expected to retire, Clarence Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports. Speculation that would wind up being the case increased in November when it was learned he would be out for the remainder of the campaign. The 28-year-old was diagnosed with cervical spinal stenosis, and undergoing surgery to correct the issue would seriously threaten his playing future.

When asked about the matter during this week’s Combine, Cowboys EVP Stephen Jones deferred (via Hill) to Vander Esch himself about making a formal announcement. The former first-rounder had fusion surgery in 2020, which itself led to questions about his playing future. He managed to remain healthy for two seasons after that, however, suggesting he would be able to remain a central figure in Dallas’ linebacking corps for years to come.

Vander Esch enjoyed a highly impressive rookie season, earning Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors along the way. His production never matched the level of that 2018 campaign, but the Boise State alum nevertheless remained a full-time starter throughout the rest of his Cowboys tenure. One year remains on Vander Esch’s contract, and he is set to carry a cap hit of $4.4MM.

As Hill notes, overhauling the linebacking corps will be a priority for the Cowboys with or without Vander Esch in the picture. The team was gashed on the ground several times in 2023, including the wild-card loss to the Packers. Dallas has 2022 fifth-rounder Damone Clark on his rookie contract for two more years. DeMarvion Overshown – taken in the third round of last year’s draft – generated high expectations for his performances in training camp but missed his rookie season due to an ACL tear. A healthy campaign could see him handle a notable workload. Former UDFA Markquese Bell will also be in the fold for next season.

Dallas is currently over the 2024 salary cap, but a Dak Prescott extension and other cost-cutting moves will help give the team financial breathing space. Free agency could be an important avenue for the Cowboys to pursue LB help, given the absence of first-round prospects at the position amongst this year’s draft class. Day 2 and 3 additions in April would come as no surprise, though, especially if Vander Esch does indeed retire.

Cowboys To Release WR Michael Gallup, LB Leighton Vander Esch

Less than a week after giving Michael Gallup permission to seek a trade, the Cowboys are moving on. They plan to release the veteran wide receiver, the Dallas Morning News’ Michael Gehlken reports.

Gallup was due a $4MM guarantee on Monday. This will end a six-year partnership, with Dallas initially selecting Gallup in the 2018 third round. The TCU alum was set to enter the third season of a five-year, $57.5MM deal — one the Cowboys authorized in March 2022, as they traded Amari Cooper.

The Cowboys held out hope for a trade, per the Morning News’ Calvin Watkins, but teams effectively knew the team would cut him due to the injury guarantee vesting. The team will use a post-June 1 designation here, ESPN.com’s Todd Archer tweets. This move will spread out Gallup’s $13.1MM dead money hit, creating $9.5MM in cap space this year. Gallup, 28, was due $8.5MM in 2024 base salary.

Although Leighton Vander Esch is expected to retire, the Cowboys are also releasing the veteran linebacker. They will do so with a failed physical designation. Neck trouble has plagued the talented linebacker, and it recurred last season.

The turning point in Gallup’s career came in December 2021, when the former 1,100-yard receiver suffered a torn ACL. Gallup reached that four-digit total in 2019, just before CeeDee Lamb‘s arrival, and topped 800 yards with Cooper and Lamb in 2020. The Cowboys kept all three again in 2021, but after the expiration of Gallup’s rookie deal, the team gave Gallup a new deal and sent Cooper to the Browns. Cooper has continued to deliver 1,000-yard seasons in Cleveland, while Dallas has remained on the hunt for a No. 2 wideout. Even before the ACL tear, Gallup had no cleared 450 receiving yards. That trend continued from 2022-23.

After its much-publicized Odell Beckham Jr. crusade did not produce a signing in 2022, Dallas sent fifth- and sixth-round picks to Houston for Brandin Cooks. The oft-traded wideout remains under contract for 2024, with Lamb going into his fifth-year option season. Cooks totaled 657 yards in his Cowboys debut, with Jake Ferguson stepping up as a viable auxiliary target post-Dalton Schultz. Still, the Cowboys should be a candidate to add another Lamb supporting-caster soon.

Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch Out For Season

Leighton Vander Esch‘s latest neck injury has put an end to his season, and it could leave the remainder of his career in jeopardy. The Cowboys linebacker will remain on injured reserve for the rest of 2023, as first reported by David Moore of the Dallas Morning News.

Vander Esch was placed on IR one month ago after suffering what was diagnosed as a neck strain. Moore notes that the 27-year-old is dealing with a cervical spinal stenosis, an ailment which could require surgery. Vander Esch is currently considering his options, per Moore, but undergoing the operation would – given the fusion surgery he had in 2020 – threaten to end his career.

I would say that’s accurate,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones confirmed in his weekly appearance on 105.7 The Fan when asked if Vander Esch is out for the year. “We had just completely left it up to how he was evolving. But of course, it’s a very significant loss for us… We just wish him well. 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 relative to the team. It has everything to do with what’s in his best interest” (h/t Moore’s colleague Michael Gehlken).

Vander Esch managed to remain relatively healthy after his 2020 procedure, serving as a key starter on Dallas’ defense. The former first-rounder posted 90 tackles last season, the second-highest total of his career. He was in line to remain a focal point at the second level in 2023, and he started each of his five games while posting 30 tackles and a fumble return touchdown before suffering the injury.

The Boise State alum’s current deal runs through 2024. Vander Esch is scheduled to make $3.5MM next season with a cap hit of $4.75MM. Only $1MM of his compensation is guaranteed, though, so moving on would not be difficult for Dallas if such a move were to be necessary. Much will depend on Vander Esch’s decision with respect to surgery and how he is able to able to recover if he does undergo another neck procedure.

In the meantime, the Cowboys will move forward with Damone Clark as a starter, having filled in for Vander Esch after his injury. Dallas also has veteran Rashaan Evans in the fold; the latter has been designated a gameday call-up from the practice squad three times, meaning a move would be needed to bring him onto the active roster. That pair will be counted on heavily down the stretch (and perhaps beyond 2023) with Vander Esch not in the picture for the foreseeable future.

Cowboys To Move Leighton Vander Esch To IR

OCTOBER 12: The Cowboys will follow through on the expected transaction. Vander Esch is heading to IR, McCarthy confirmed Thursday. Expected to be out at least a month with a neck strain, Vander Esch will rehab while off the team’s 53-man roster.

OCTOBER 9: Leighton Vander Esch‘s history with neck trouble affected him during his rookie-contract years in Dallas and impacted his potential for a lucrative extension. Months after re-signing with the team on a two-year deal, the veteran linebacker has run into another neck issue.

A collision with teammate Micah Parsons in the second half of the Cowboys’ loss to the 49ers is expected to lead to a Vander Esch absence. The Cowboys are likely to move the former first-round pick to IR, Mike McCarthy said Monday (via ESPN’s Todd Archer). Vander Esch is expected to miss four to six weeks with a neck strain, according to the Dallas Morning News’ Calvin Watkins.

An IR move would sideline Vander Esch until at least Week 11; the Cowboys have their bye in Week 6. Vander Esch, 27, saw neck injuries sidetrack his career. The first of those came in 2019, when the 2018 first-rounder missed seven games. He then missed three because of neck trouble last season.

The Cowboys gave Vander Esch a two-year, $8MM deal in March. He played the 2022 season on a one-year, $2MM pact. After a breakthrough rookie season, this did not appear the path Vander Esch’s career would go. The Boise State product soared to second-team All-Pro honors after a 140-tackle season that included two interceptions and seven passes defensed. Vander Esch played a lead role in Dallas rallying back to win the NFC East in 2018, but he fell off the extension radar due to injuries.

Dallas declined his fifth-year option in 2021, and while the parties have since agreed to two more contracts, neither checks in as an especially lucrative deal for the once-promising prospect. Still, Vander Esch rallied back in 2022 and logged his most defensive snaps (746) since his impact rookie year. While the Cowboys disbanded their multiyear LVE-Jaylon Smith pair two years ago, they have still kept the younger linebacker in their plans. For the time being, however, Vander Esch will drift out of the picture.

The team is looking into a veteran addition, per the Dallas Morning News’ Michael Gehlken. Dan Quinn also offered an interesting potential solution for a Vander Esch absence. The third-year Dallas DC said an extended hiatus could lead to Micah Parsons spending more time at linebacker, The Athletic’s Jon Machota tweets. Drafted as a linebacker, Parsons quickly graduated to pass-rushing star. The Cowboys have refrained from labeling the impact defender a pure defensive end, but Parsons spends most of his time rushing from the edge.

A move back to the second level would be an interesting development for this defense, given the value Parsons has generated up front. The Penn State product did play more ILB as a rookie, and the Cowboys will soon be thinner at that position. Dallas also is much deeper along its D-line, rostering the likes of Dorance Armstrong, Dante Fowler and Sam Williams as auxiliary edge rushers. Conversely, the team has an issue at linebacker.

Opting not to re-sign Anthony Barr, the Cowboys moved 2022 Day 3 draftee Damone Clark into their starting lineup. They drafted Demarvion Overshown in Round 3 but lost the rookie to a torn ACL this summer. The team waived Jabril Cox in August. Dallas rosters just one more ILB on its 53-man roster, second-year UDFA Markquese Bell. The team will need to add at that position soon.

In addition to Vander Esch’s setback, the Cowboys lost veteran special-teamer C.J. Goodwin — likely for the rest of the season. Goodwin suffered a torn pectoral muscle, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. The Cowboys re-signed Goodwin in March, giving him a veteran-minimum deal. Goodwin, 33, has been with the Cowboys since 2018.

NFC East Notes: Eagles, Pinnock, Cowboys

The Eagles both signed five-year starter Terrell Edmunds and used a third-round pick on Sydney Brown. Both safeties factor into the team’s plans, but they are not outflanking Reed Blankenship thus far through training camp. Blankenship has been a first-team mainstay, per the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jeff McLane, who adds Edmunds and Brown have rotated at the other safety spot. Indeed, The Athletic’s Zach Berman notes Blankenship — a 2022 UDFA out of Middle Tennessee State — has been the Eagles’ top safety in camp (subscription required).

This reminds of Marcus Epps‘ rise last year. Despite the Eagles re-signing Anthony Harris and adding Jaquiski Tartt in 2022, Epps earned a starting job — one that eventually led to a two-year, $12MM Raiders payday. The Eagles brought in C.J. Gardner-Johnson via trade just before last season. That transaction could signal none of Philly’s safeties should be too comfortable, but Blankenship — Gardner-Johnson’s injury sub last year who played 291 defensive snaps — looks like the best bet to start among the in-house group.

Here is the latest from the NFC East:

  • Staying on the subject of safeties in this division, the Giants may be moving toward giving Jason Pinnock the starting job alongside Xavier McKinney. A Jets fifth-round pick in 2021, Pinnock started five games for the Giants last year, operating as McKinney’s injury fill-in. He has received consistent first-team work in camp, The Athletic’s Dan Duggan notes. Pinnock has distanced himself from Dane Belton and veteran Bobby McCain, having been Big Blue’s first-teamer since the fourth training camp practice. The Giants, who lost Julian Love in free agency, claimed Pinnock shortly after the Jets waived the converted cornerback on cutdown day last year. Two seasons remain on Pinnock’s rookie contract.
  • Malik Hooker‘s 2023 Cowboys cap hit climbed from $4.32MM to $4.57MM as a result of his recent extension, Todd Archer of ESPN.com tweets. The incentives in the three-year, $21MM contract include $500K bumps involving playing time and INT production. Five picks and the Cowboys making the playoffs would result in a $500K increase, Archer adds, noting the other incentive requires Hooker to play 85% of Dallas’ defensive snaps and the team to make the postseason (Twitter link).
  • The Cowboys, who turned Micah Parsons from an off-ball linebacker to a fearsome edge rusher, are giving Leighton Vander Esch some reps on the edge, Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News notes. While the sixth-year linebacker received sparse edge work in games last season, Gehlken adds this is the first time he has received extensive instruction in a defensive end role. Rostering Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, Dante Fowler and Sam Williams, the Cowboys are much deeper on the edge than at linebacker. It would stand to reason LVE’s role will likely remain mostly as an off-ball defender.
  • The Giants recently added longtime safety Mike Adams to their coaching staff, ESPN’s Jordan Raanan tweets. A 16-year veteran, Adams will replace Anthony Blevins as the Giants’ assistant defensive backs coach, the New York Daily News’ Pat Leonard adds (on Twitter). Adams, 42, hung up his cleats after the 2019 season. Blevins left the Giants during the summer to accept an XFL HC position.
  • While Devon Allen did not see any game action for the Eagles last season, Berman writes the two-time Olympian hurdler is in play to make the team as a backup this year. Allen, 28, has not played in a game since working as an Oregon slot receiver in 2016. Shifting to track full-time proved beneficial for Allen, who is one of the best 110-meter hurdlers in U.S. history. But he opted to give football another try last year. He suffered an injury at the U.S. Championships last month, exiting the 110 hurdles competition before the finals in order to preserve his body for his second Eagles camp. The Eagles activated Allen from the PUP list Tuesday.
  • Given a reserve/futures deal along with Allen in February, Matt Leo landed on the Eagles’ reserve/retired list last month. The team hired the former practice squad defensive end a defensive and football operations assistant.

Cowboys To Re-Sign Leighton Vander Esch

The Cowboys have brought back Donovan Wilson and agreed to acquire Stephon Gilmore from the Colts. They have not forgotten about Leighton Vander Esch, it appears.

Dallas is close to re-signing the former first-round pick, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets, and NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports a deal is expected. Vander Esch and the Cowboys are on the verge of completing a two-year, $11MM agreement, Rapoport adds (Twitter link). The first year will be guaranteed, Jane Slater of ESPN.com tweets.

This marks one of a few off-ball linebacker deals to commence Tuesday. While Dallas has been connected to Bobby Wagner for a second straight offseason, the team liked what it saw from Vander Esch in 2022. This contract matches the deal the Dolphins gave David Long on Monday. Wagner is unlikely to be in the picture any longer, per Slater, now that Vander Esch has agreed to terms (Twitter link).

The Steelers and Texans also pursued Vander Esch, Slater adds (on Twitter). But the Cowboys are bringing back the former Pro Bowler for a sixth season. They will give him a raise to return; the Boise State product signed for just $2MM in 2022.

Although Vander Esch has not matched his rookie-year form, as injuries intervened early in his career, he is still just 27 and should have some prime seasons remaining. Pro Football Focus viewed Vander Esch as a top-12 coverage linebacker last season. The 749 defensive snaps LVE logged were the most since his standout rookie season. He reached that total despite missing three games. Vander Esch totaled 90 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble during his 14-game run, and he added two pass deflections in Dallas’ blowout playoff win in Tampa.

The Buccaneers performance may well have helped Vander Esch secure this contract, as he came back after a shoulder injury sidelined him for the final three regular-season games. Concerns about Vander Esch’s past with neck injuries resurfaced, but this Cowboys agreement shows the team remains confident in his availability going forward.

The Cowboys have used Micah Parsons more as an edge rusher, leaving more snaps available at linebacker. The team also rosters Damone Clark and Jabril Cox but lost Luke Gifford to the Titans on Tuesday. Anthony Barr is also a free agent, after having signed a one-year deal last summer.

Giants Rumors: Lawrence, Edwards, WRs, Love

The Giants have been eyeing an extension for star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence for a while now and, following a breakout season, the team has made it a priority. New York started preliminary conversations with Lawrence about two weeks ago, but Jonathan Jones of NFL on CBS claims he wouldn’t be surprised to see a new deal done “sooner than later.”

Despite the ever-growing markets for every position, the league’s market for defensive tackles has never been near the contract of generational talent Aaron Donald. It appears that this will continue to be the case as we see the defensive tackle market reestablished this offseason. Washington has already made Daron Payne the new second-highest paid defensive tackle in the NFL behind Donald with a four-year, $90MM contract. Payne’s average annual value of $22.5MM is still well short of Donald’s $31.67MM per year.

It will be interesting to see where the Giants go from Payne’s deal. Payne established himself as a premier pass-rushing defensive tackle in the league this season but struggled in run defense. Lawrence didn’t have the pass rush production that Payne did but still excelled in the area while also being strong against the run.

Lawrence graded out as the second-best defensive tackle in the league this year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). It would make perfect sense for the Giants to reward Lawrence with a contract that surpasses that of Payne’s new deal, but will Lawrence be able to come anywhere close to the heights reached by Donald?

Here are a few more rumors surrounding the Giants’ priorities at the start of the new league year:

  • Starting the offseason with 21 unrestricted free agents, New York had a laundry list of names and positions to take care of. One of those positions that has been getting some chatter is inside linebacker. Specifically, the Giants have continuously been connected to Eagles pending free agent linebacker T.J. Edwards, according to Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. The four-year Philadelphia defender has had two increasingly impressive breakout seasons, recording career-highs last year in total tackles (159), tackles for loss (10), sacks (2.0), quarterback hits (5), and passes defensed (7). Aside from Edwards, the top name expected to be available at the position is Tremaine Edmunds from Buffalo. Other names of interest for the G-Men include the Commanders’ Cole Holcomb, the Bengals’ Germaine Pratt, the Cowboys’ Leighton Vander Esch, the Lions’ Alex Anzalone, and the Chargers’ Drue Tranquill.
  • The wide receivers position has been an obvious need on the Giants’ roster for some time now, but it doesn’t appear that the Giants intend to address that through free agency, according to Pat Leonard of New York Daily News. With their focuses in free agency and the draft reportedly on inside linebackers, defensive linemen, cornerbacks, and interior offensive linemen, thoughts are that the trade market may make more sense for New York. If the Bills aren’t able to reach an extension agreement with Gabriel Davis, the Giants could be strong contenders to acquire his talents. The Rams have granted receiver Allen Robinson permission to seek a trade. Cardinals star receiver DeAndre Hopkins appears to be available for a price, as well. There are other names that could be interesting additions to the trade market such as Cincinnati wideout Tyler Boyd or Denver’s Jerry Jeudy. The team might still make free agency moves for veterans like Cole Beasley or Odell Beckham Jr., but the trade market could be a more attractive way to bring in established talent to New York.
  • There is reportedly optimism that the Giants will be able to come to an agreement to re-sign pending free agent safety Julian Love. After two seasons of relatively down play, Love had a bounce-back, breakout season in a contract year. He led the team in tackles by a mile with 124 total and tacked on two interceptions for good measure. Love may not be expected to make top money at the position, but after playing out his rookie contract, it appears Love is on the right track to remaining in New York long-term.

NFC East Notes: Edwards, Giants, Cowboys

Off-ball linebacker is set to be one of this year’s deepest positional markets. The Eagles are set to send both their regulars — Kyzir White and T.J. Edwards — to free agency. Edwards is expected to draw interest, and an NFC East bidding war could commence. Edwards wants to stay with the Eagles, per InsidetheBirds.com’s Geoff Mosher, but the former UDFA is set to receive interest from three or four teams. One of the interested parties looks to be the Giants, whom the New York Post’s Ryan Dunleavy notes are believed to have the productive Eagle on their radar. The Giants, whose linebacker plan has not stabilized since Blake Martinez‘s ACL tear early during the 2021 season, have multiple needs at the position. There will be several ILB types available, however, even if Tremaine Edmunds‘ Bills ties do not lead him to a reunion with Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen.

As for the Eagles, they have most of their defense headed toward free agency. It will be interesting to see if Edwards, who has graded as a top-10 off-ball ‘backer (via Pro Football Focus) in each of the past two seasons, will be a priority as the Eagles attempt to reconstruct their defense. Here is the latest from the NFC East:

  • Another of those off-ball linebackers set to be available, Leighton Vander Esch remains in the Cowboys‘ plans. The team has engaged in talks with the former first-round pick, but the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Clarence Hill notes the sides have not made much progress on a deal that would keep him off the market (Twitter link). Ditto Donovan Wilson, whom Cowboys executive VP Stephen Jones said the team wants to bring back. Jones called keeping the Cowboys’ Wilson-Jayron KearseMalik Hooker safety trio together “a priority,” Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News tweets. Safety resides as a deep position on the market as well, and although Wilson is coming off his best season, it might not be too costly for the Cowboys to re-sign the former sixth-round pick. Vander Esch signed a one-year, $2MM deal with Dallas in 2022; he played 746 defensive snaps last season, his most since his Pro Bowl rookie year.
  • Staying in Dallas, the team is expecting to lose tight end starter Dalton Schultz in free agency. But the key Dak Prescott auxiliary target did field an offer from the team. Schultz turned down a “pretty solid” multiyear extension offer, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. With Evan Engram off the market, Schultz can be safely viewed as the top tight end available. It makes sense, after the Cowboys franchise-tagged Schultz last year, that he would want to explore what else is out there.
  • The Cardinals are handing the defensive play-calling keys to the NFL’s youngest active coordinator, the recently hired Nick Rallis. Prior to Jonathan Gannon taking the former Eagles linebackers coach to the desert, Zach Berman of The Athletic notes Philly had interest in the 29-year-old assistant for its defensive coordinator job (subscription required). Rallis spent the past two seasons with the Eagles.
  • Jerry Jones laments not drafting enough options at quarterback in the years since Troy Aikman‘s retirement (in 2001), and Gehlken notes the Cowboys should be monitored regarding the selection of a Prescott backup. Cooper Rush is a free agent, as is a quarterback the Cowboys drafted before he enjoyed a memorable stay with another team (the Jets’ Mike White). The Cowboys, who have only drafted eight QBs since Jones bought the team in 1989, have selected one QB (current XFLer Ben DiNucci, in the 2020 seventh round) since Mike McCarthy‘s arrival.

Cowboys Activate NT Johnathan Hankins

JANUARY 16: Hankins is back in uniform for the Cowboys. The team activated the veteran defensive tackle from IR ahead of its Monday wild-card matchup. Hankins, whom the Cowboys acquired from the Raiders days before the trade deadline, has been out since Week 14.

JANUARY 11: The Cowboys could be getting some defensive reinforcement in time for their showdown with the Buccaneers. Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News reports (via Twitter) that nose tackle Johnathan Hankins was designated for return today.

That means Hankins’ 21-day practice window officially started today. Of course, there’s no guarantee that the Cowboys are still in the postseason in 21 days. So, most likely, the Cowboys are preparing for the nose tackle to be on the field for Monday’s game against the Buccaneers, a sentiment that Gehlken echoes.

A pectoral strain forced Hankins to the injured reserve in December, but assuming he’s back this season, he’ll ultimately have missed the minimum four required games.

“I feel good. I feel like I could’ve been back sooner but, with the [IR] rules, I had to be out four weeks,” Hankins said today (via the team’s website). “But I’m not mad about it, it just gave me more time to get my body right and ready for the playoffs…The time is now.”

In October, Hankins was traded with a seventh-round pick from the Raiders to the Cowboys for a sixth-round selection. The 30-year-old got into five games (three starts) for his new squad, collecting 10 tackles. Hankins previously spent time with the Giants, Colts, and Raiders, including an eight-year stretch where he started 116 of his 117 games.

The Cowboys got some more positive injury news today. Gehlken passes along that center Tyler Biadasz and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch both returned to practice today.

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.