Cowboys Confirm Serious Injury to LB Leighton Vander Esch

Leighton Vander Esch

Getty Leighton Vander Esch

Adding injury to the insult that was the Dallas Cowboys‘ Week 1 showing, starting linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is out indefinitely after fracturing his collarbone, the team announced Sunday night.

Vander Esch was hurt in the first half of the Cowboys’ 20-17 opening-day loss to the Los Angeles Rams. He was almost immediately ruled out for the remainder of the game — an ominous sign.

“I know how it feels to be injured, to suffer an injury,” Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith said after the defeat, via The Dallas Morning News. “I don’t wish that on anyone. It’s definitely tough. …He’s going to come back strong.”

The silver lining here, per media reports, is that it’s not a season-ending malady. Vander Esch will undergo additional testing Monday before a trip to injured reserve (minimum three-week stay), a reparative operation, and re-evaluation. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport stated “he’ll be back this season.”

Vander Esch, who recorded three tackles prior to exiting, is central to Dallas’ defense, a true three-down ‘backer. But he’s also officially injury-prone, having missed seven games in 2019 following a career-threatening bout of spinal stenosis and subsequent neck surgery, from which he fully recovered.

“I’ve been training for like three or four months hard. I’ve got all my strength back,” he said last month, via Cowboys Wire. “Everything’s going great there, and I feel amazing. I’m just excited to be on the field.”

The team’s 2018 first-round draft pick, Vander Esch is under contract through next year. He’s due to collect $1.557 million in base salary for the 2020 campaign.

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LVE Replacement

The Cowboys were already in a precarious spot, forced to play without LB Sean Lee, on IR with a sports hernia issue, and veteran reserve Luke Gifford, declared inactive. Vander Esch’s absence pushed Joe Thomas to the starting lineup, and the result wasn’t great as Los Angeles ran the ball (153 rushing yards) almost at will.

Assuming Vander Esch is done for the foreseeable future, it’s possible the club seeks outside reinforcement via free agency or trade. The alternative is promoting undrafted rookies Ron’Dell Carter or Francis Bernard from the practice squad.

Jarwin, Erving Sustain Knee Injuries

The bad news wasn’t limited to Dallas’ defense. Tight end Blake Jarwin and swing tackle Cam Erving picked up knee injuries that, on initial glance, appear fairly severe. In Jarwin’s case, the team fears a torn ACL, which would end his season. Erving will miss “some time,” though the extent of damage to his knee remains unclear.

Dalton Schultz finished the contest in place of Jarwin, notching one catch for 11 yards. He’s the No. 3 TE behind Jarwin and Blake Bell, and ahead of UDFA rookie Sean McKeon, who was inactive. The Cowboys have Cole Hikutini stashed away on the practice squad.

Erving was considered the favorite to replace right tackle La’el Collins (IR, hip), but undrafted rookie Terence Steele surprisingly got the start against the Rams. Erving being sidelined means Brandon Knight is entrenched as the primary backup to Steele and left tackle Tyron Smith.

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Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL