Leighton Vander Esch sends tear-jerking message to Cowboys fans after retirement

New England Patriots v Dallas Cowboys
New England Patriots v Dallas Cowboys / Richard Rodriguez/GettyImages

The Dallas Cowboys lost another one of their longest-tenured players on Monday when Leighton Vander Esch announced his retirement from the NFL. Vander Esch was released last week with a failed physical designation, which seemed to foreshadow that a retirement announcement was coming.

Vander Esch will always hold a special place in Cowboys fans' hearts. He was a first-round pick in the 2018 draft, which was held at AT&T Stadium, and gave Dallas its best linebacker play since former All-Pro Sean Lee.

Like Lee, injuries cut Vander Esch's career short. Having already suffered multiple neck injuries and undergone multiple neck procedures in five seasons, Vander Esch suffered another neck injury in October, which prematurely ended his season. A medical issue stemming from that injury led to his retirement.

The "Wolf Hunter" announced his retirement in the form of a lengthy statement in which he reflected on his career and thanked the Cowboys organization, the fan base, teammates, coaching staff and athletic trainers.

Leighton Vander Esch sends emotional statement to Cowboys fans after retirement

"My dream of playing for the Dallas Cowboys came to reality on April 26, 2018. That night will forever be a night I’ll never forget. 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. It has been an honor to represent my family, my teammates and the people of Dallas."

" . . .The Dallas community and the devoted fans of the Cowboys are simply amazing. Six years ago, upon arriving in Dallas, I received the warmest welcome possible, and Dallas has been my home ever since. The dedication and passion the fans display has been inspiring. During a Sunday afternoon in the fall, there is no doubt the collective roar of our enthusiastic fans provides strength for the players. Countless times I was approached by fans and loyal season ticket holders who gave me nothing but words of encouragement and support. I cannot thank you enough."

Pure class from Vander Esch. We would expect nothing less.

Because of injuries, Vander Esch was never able to replicate the success of his All-Pro rookie campaign in 2018. When healthy, though, he gave the Cowboys dependable and imposing play at linebacker. Fans in Dallas will testify that has been hard to come by over the years when LVE hasn't been on the field.

Vander Esch retires with 469 career tackles, 13 tackles for loss, three interceptions and he scored the first defensive touchdown of his career in his final full game on Oct. 1, 2023 against the Patriots in Week 4. We didn't know it at the time, but it was a proper sendoff for him, albeit a far too premature one.

We wish all the best to Vander Esch in his post-football life.

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