Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch retires, trusts in God's 'unwavering love and guidance'

Injuries have forced former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch to call it quits after six seasons in the NFL. The 28-year-old from Riggins, Idaho, announced his retirement on Monday with a lengthy Instagram post.

>> Subscribe to Sports Spectrum Magazine for more stories where sports and faith connect <<

“Today is a difficult day for me, but it is also a day of reflection and gratitude,” his post began. “… I realize that I am no longer able to adhere to the unwavering standard of excellence that professional football demands. I say this with a heavy heart: I am medically retiring from the NFL.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Leighton Vander Esch (@vander_esch38)

The Cowboys picked Vander Esch 19th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft following an impressive collegiate career at Boise State, where he got his start as a walk-on. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder made an instant impact in Dallas, starting 11 of the team’s 16 regular-season games in 2018 while amassing a career-high 140 combined tackles and two interceptions. For his efforts, he was awarded with Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro selections that year.

Another promising start the following year was curtailed by a nerve issue in his neck that required season-ending surgery. Neck problems lingered for the remainder of his career, causing him to miss games in 2022 and 2023 as well. He only played in five games last season before re-injuring his neck, registering 30 tackles and his only career touchdown on a fumble return.

Last week, the Cowboys released him following a failed physical.

Playing in the NFL for Dallas was a blessing and a dream come true for Vander Esch. In his Instagram post, he thanked all who made that dream possible, from his wife, Madalynn, and his family to his alma mater, the fans and the people inside the Cowboys organization. However, he saved his biggest expression of gratitude for last.

“I thank God every day for all that He has given me: my family, my friends, my teammates, and being on this stage to impact people’s lives in a positive way. Today, I would like to thank God for the countless blessings he continues to shower over my family and me.”

Vander Esch continued in a posture of prayer.

“You have given me a new healthy baby girl (Navy) and a wife that follows you. Without trusting in your unwavering love and guidance, I know I wouldn’t have made it this far. You have blessed me with the ability to become a Dallas Cowboy and for allowing me the privilege of a 6-year professional football career. I strive to let you work through me in this next chapter to continue to impact people’s lives and to be a light in this world.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Leighton Vander Esch (@vander_esch38)

Vander Esch was clearly a light for God within the Cowboys’ locker room.

“His passion and love for the game was contagious, and from the moment he arrived, he has been a difference maker,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said following Vander Esch’s announcement, according to ESPN. “His grit, toughness, motivation, determination and football IQ will be sorely missed. Leighton also embodied the strong character and personal qualities that make him much more than an accomplished player. He was a leader and the kind of teammate that impacted those around him in the best ways.”

Head coach Mike McCarthy echoed Jones’ comments.

“Leighton is exactly the kind of player and person a coach feels very fortunate to have on their team,” he said in a statement. “His leadership, character, perseverance, dedication and will to win were all at the highest level, not to mention his ability to play the game.”

Wherever his next stop is and whatever the next chapter of his life holds, Vander Esch knows his Heavenly Father will be with him, just like He’s always been.

>> Do you know Christ personally? Learn how you can commit your life to Him. <<

Patriots’ Matthew Slater retires, grateful for ‘grace and mercy of Lord Jesus’
SS PODCAST: Former NFL LB K.J. Wright on retirement, Super Bowls, Israel
New QB Kirk Cousins introduced with Falcons ‘as God’s plan would have it’
SS PODCAST: Former NFL punter Brett Kern on faith, retirement & fake punts
SS PODCAST: Patriots legend Devin McCourty on retirement, wisdom from God