Cowboys linebacker Vander Esch likely to miss rest of season with neck injury

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is likely to miss the rest of the season with a neck injury that sidelined him the past month and his career could be in jeopardy as well.

Owner/general manager Jerry Jones confirmed the update on his weekly radio show Tuesday.

The 27-year-old Vander Esch hasn't played since injuring his neck again in a 42-10 loss to San Francisco on Oct. 8.

After making the Pro Bowl as a rookie first-round draft pick in 2018, the sixth-year pro missed seven of the final nine games a year later with a neck injury.

Vander Esch, who had a history of neck issues going back to his time at Boise State, had spinal fusion surgery after the 2019 season before missing time with a broken collarbone and an ankle injury in 2020, followed by more neck issues the past two seasons.

“We had just completely left it up to how he was evolving, but of course it’s such a very significant loss for us,” Jones said on the Cowboys' flagship radio station. “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.”

Vander Esch's injury against the Niners came when he was pushed from behind into the leg of linebacker Micah Parsons, jamming his neck. He was eligible to come off injured reserve this week. The Cowboys (6-3) play at Carolina on Sunday.

The former Boise State standout and eight-man high school football player in Idaho never got a second long-term contract with the Cowboys after the club declined the fifth-year option on his rookie deal.

Vander Esch kept coming back on shorter contracts and became a leader of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's unit as the primary signal-caller.

Second-year player Damone Clark, who had a neck issue discovered at the NFL combine and dropped in the draft as a result, has been one of the key replacements with Vander Esch out.

Another is 2018 first-round pick Rashaan Evans, who signed to the Dallas practice squad after Vander Esch's injury and has now used all three promotions to the active roster.

The Cowboys are expected to sign Evans to the 53-man roster after he played a season-high 28 snaps in last weekend's 49-17 victory over the New York Giants.

“Just the way the game went, it was good to get him more reps than we probably thought he would get,” coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. “The personnel decision is definitely in front of us.”