Cowboys Release 28-Year-Old Ex-Pro Bowler Amid Roster Moves

Mike McCarthy

Getty The Cowboys and Mike McCarthy are releasing LB Leighton Vander Esch.

The Dallas Cowboys are moving on from a notable starter.

The Cowboys are releasing linebacker Leighton Vander Esch with a failed physical designation, according to ESPN’s Todd Archer. Vander Esch’s season ended early due to another neck injury.

“The Cowboys have informed LB Leighton Vander Esch he will be released, per a source, with a failed physical designation,” writes Archer. “He missed final 12 games last year with a neck injury.”

Leighton Vander Esch Dealt With Multiple Neck Injuries

The 28-year-old veteran had served as a starter for the Cowboys since entering the NFL as a first-round draft pick in 2018. Upon entering the league, Vander Esch made an immediate impact, posting 140 tackles with two interceptions despite not emerging as a starter until midway through the season.

His productive rookie campaign gave him a Pro Bowl berth and Second-Team All-Pro selection.

However, persistent neck issues plagued Vander Esch throughout his career. His 2019 season ended after just nine games due to a nerve issue in his neck that led to surgery. His 2020 season came to a close due to a broken collarbone after just 10 games. That’s not even mentioning how he suffered from a neck injury during his sophomore campaign while at Boise State in 2016.

“Leighton Vander Esch set a team rookie record with 176 tackles in 2018 and was named to Pro Bowl,” writes Archer. “His neck was an issue to teams before draft and continued but he was a valuable part of the D over the years, especially the last 2 w/ ability to read plays and get people lined up.”

He had bounced back during the 2021 and 2022 seasons from not only a health standpoint, but also from a production standpoint. He missed just three games and posted 77 tackles during the 2021 season and 90 tackles during the 2022 season, ranking second on the team in total tackles.

The release and failed physical designation doesn’t exactly come as a surprise; team owner Jerry Jones didn’t sound entirely sure Vander Esch’s career would continue when addressing the linebacker’s future following his injury.

Via David Moore of The Dallas Morning News:

“I don’t know,” said Jones back in November regarding whether or not Vander Esch would play again. “He just really needs to see how this continues to heal, and then go from that point as to whether or not he would want to continue to say, expose himself to injury.”

It’s unclear at this time if Vander Esch will retire, but the failed physical designation is obviously not a good sign for his NFL future.

Cowboys Release Wide Receiver Michael Gallup

The Cowboys are also releasing wide receiver Michael Gallup after not finding a trade partner. According to Gehlken, Dallas will move on from Gallup and designate him as a post-June 1 cut while saving $9.5 million.

“Cowboys have released WR Michael Gallup, a person close to situation said. Move to eventually save $9.5M in 2024 cap space as a post-June 1 cut,” writes Gehlken.

Gallup had been unable to regain his form after suffering a torn ACL towards the end of the 2021 season. After signing a five-year, $57.5 million deal during the 2022 offseason, Gallup had been a major disappointment as a starter.

Expected to somewhat fill the role left over by the trade departure of star receiver Amari Cooper, Gallup produced just 73 passes for 842 yards and six touchdowns in the two seasons since. To top it all off, he didn’t produce a single 100-yard game over the past two years.

If Gallup had remained on the roster through Saturday, $4 million of his salary would have been guaranteed.


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