The Dallas Cowboys defense has managed just fine without Leighton Vander Esch, who's on injured reserve with a neck injury suffered in Week 5.
That can be attributed to the emergence of Markquese Bell, who's strung together multiple eye-grabbing performances this season. He's currently Pro Football Focus' eight-highest-graded linebacker. His speed and discipline have been huge in helping Dallas stop the run and many talking heads wanted him to keep a significant role when Vander Esch returned.
As it turns out, Bell will keep the job because Vander Esch won't return this season, which Jerry Jones confirmed to 105.3 The Fan on Wednesday.
Executive vice president Stephen Jones said last week that Vander Esch wouldn't return before the playoffs, so doubt about his status already started creeping in. This latest update is hardly a surprise, but what makes it truly awful is the fact LVE's injury was entirely avoidable.
In Week 5, Vander Esch pursued 49ers running back Jordan Mason and left tackle Trent Williams shoved Vander Esch in the back and the LB crashed into Micah Parsons, which caused the injury. You can find a clip of the play behind this link.
Trent Williams' dirty play might've ended Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch's career
As PFF's Marcus Mosher notes, it's tough to judge whether it was a dirty play by Williams. At the very least, though, it was highly unnecessary. It was a clear penalty on Williams, as Vander Esch took a strong angle to tackle Mason, but nothing was called and Mason went 26 yards untouched into the end zone.
If Vander Esch couldn't make the play, Parsons was in high pursuit and likely would've gobbled up the running back if Williams didn't needlessly shove a tumbling Vander Esch's into Parsons midsection just as the two Cowboys defenders crossed paths.
The timing of Williams' block in the back is suspicious and brings the dirty classification into play. That, and Williams' lengthy tack record of being involved in controversial (borderline dirty) plays. Earlier this season, he landed a right hook on Giants defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson and somehow wasn't ejected.
It's impossible to say if Williams tried to injure Leighton Vander Esch. With that said, he's seemingly always the common denominator when the 49ers are tied to controversy. At some point, the term coincidence loses credence.
The fact Cowboys fans and talking heads weren't surprised that Williams pulled this stunt tells you all you need to know. He tried taking out two Dallas players with one stone with a cheap shot in a game that was already decided, and now there's talk of whether Vander Esch's playing career is in jeopardy due to his history with neck injuries.
Williams is a great player -- probably the best left tackle of his generation. Unfortunately, that's allowed him to get away with countless dirty plays in his career. This latest one might have ended a player's career.
Let that sink in.