There's good news at the end of the tunnel for Leighton Vander Esch. The former first-round pick is now on injured reserve as he recovers from a minor procedure on his neck, yes, but his prognosis for the future is a promising one.
Despite concerns from outside of the organization that Vander Esch's latest battle with neck issues are somehow tied to those he had during his time at Boise State, the Dallas Cowboys never once held such a concern, with the team's medical staff having ruled out any possible correlation early in his 2019 recovery; and going on to make it clear they -- along with Vander Esch's blessing -- were completely fine taking a more deliberate approach to his return to football. , the club wasn't optimistic they'd see him again in 2019, but all signs point to a go for 2020 and beyond.
With the procedure now complete and Vander Esch on the mend, owner Jerry Jones is standing firm on Vander Esch being perfectly fine going forward. In speaking with 105.3FM the Fan on Friday heading into the regular season finale against the Washington Redskins, Jones states he was told Vander Esch will make a "full recovery", and the Cowboys don't expect any residual neck issues going forward.
"[His prognosis is a] complete thumbs up," Jones said. "We call them three's above. You know what that is -- a three, a four, or a five on an injury grade. We think he'll have all of that. The point is that when you do any work in those areas and you do any limiting in any way of discs or anything like that, you don't have that many to work with.
"In other words, it's a combined thing. Somebody that's had a disc or somebody that's had a couple of discs -- then you're starting run out of flexibility there if you get another disc or another disc. Nothing, in anything I've heard or seen, would indicate that it's something that was unique to him as much as it was the injury itself. He actually a very unorthodox position with pressure on it that created this injury and it's not something you would expect him to have happen anymore frequently."
A separate source tells me the added expectation is Vander Esch will be completely healthy and available for offseason conditioning when it begins in late spring/early summer, barring any setbacks in his rehab.
The 23-year-old suffered a neck stinger in the Week 7 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles and went on to miss just one game before returning to face the Detroit Lions, but then reaggravated the injury in a mid-week practice following that game. He never returned to the field in 2019, and his absence has been felt on more than one occasion, despite improved play from veteran Sean Lee in certain games.
Vander Esch burst onto the season in his rookie season, landing both a Pro Bowl and Second-Team All Pro nod in 2018, and if he can return to form in 2020 -- he could again be one of the most dangerous linebackers in the entire NFL. That's what the Cowboys and Vander Esch believe will happen, with his neck stinger in 2019 now officially ruled an isolated event.