Skip to content

Ex-Cowboys star Leighton Vander Esch, 28, retires from NFL after several neck injuries

  • by
  • 3 min read

Former Dallas Cowboys star Leighton Vander Esch announced his retirement on Monday due to injuries.

Vander Esch, 28, suffered a season-ending neck injury against the San Francisco 49ers during the team’s Week 5 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. It would be the third time in six seasons he played in 10 games or fewer.

The Cowboys released him last week.

He thanked his wife, coaches, fans, his agent and his alma mater Boise State in his retirement message posted on the Cowboys’ team website.


“During my six years as a Cowboys player, I’ve always pursued success and winning football games, while preparing and training with the highest standards of competition, passion and perseverance,” he said in part. “It has been an honor to represent my family, my teammates and the people of Dallas.

“I realize that I am no longer able to adhere to the unwavering standard of excellence that professional football demands. I say this with a heavy heart: I am medically retiring from the NFL. I love the game of football so much, but my body won’t cooperate any longer. 

“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. This year, things may look a little different for me, but the sole focus is being a great husband and father for my loving family.”


The Cowboys selected Vander Esch with the No. 19 overall pick of the 2018 draft. He quickly became an integral part of the defense, earning a Pro Bowl selection in his rookie season.

In his second year, the injuries began. He suffered a nerve issue in his neck which forced him to miss the final few weeks of the season. The 2020 season was also derailed because of another nerve issue in his neck. He managed to return in the middle of the season.

Vander Esch played in every game in 2021, racking up 77 tackles, a sack and an interception. But in 2022, it was more of the same. He suffered a neck stinger that cost him a few games. He managed to play for Dallas in the playoffs, but the Cowboys didn’t go far.

In 2023, Vander Esch had 30 tackles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. He only played in five games.

“I thank God every day for all that He has given me: my family, my friends, my teammates, and being on this stage to impact people’s lives in a positive way,” he concluded. “Today, I would like to thank God for the countless blessings he continues to shower over my family and me. You have given me a new healthy baby girl and a wife that follows you.

“Without trusting in your unwavering love and guidance, I know I wouldn’t have made it this far. You have blessed me with the ability to become a Dallas Cowboy and for allowing me the privilege of a 6-year professional football career. I strive to let you work through me in this next chapter to continue to impact people’s lives and to be a light in this world.”

Follow Fox News Digital’s sports coverage on X and subscribe to the Fox News Sports Huddle newsletter.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *