FORT WORTH, Texas – According to the classic children’s song, “Skeleton Dance,” Leighton Vander Esche should be fine.
Because, according to the lyrics of this famous song, “the sawdust is tied to the neck bone.”
That’s good news because the Dallas Cowboys linebacker has been dealing with neck injuries and his latest “situation” isn’t his neck.
LVE was forced out of the Cowboys’ game in Jacksonville on Sunday with what was initially reported to be a neck injury.
When LVE returned home, he received the good news from an MRI scan that showed the lesion on his right shoulder was a bite. Not his neck.
don’t buy it
“I heard that BS too,” a longtime sports orthopedist told me.
“The bite is caused by damage to the nerve root coming out of the neck. If it is due to compression, it is more proximal and difficult to prevent recurrence. If it is due to stretching, a ‘cowboy collar’ will reduce the frequency of recurrences, and they are usually further downstream, so sometimes cover a smaller area.”
FYI: LVE wears a cowboy collar.
“They don’t originate in the shoulder,” said the doctor. “They must think that athletes and other listeners have no interest in checking their facts.
(Facts can be terribly time-consuming).
The team will keep him out for a while, but it looks like he’ll be ready for the playoffs.
The problem with Cowboys, and specifically The Wolf Hunter, is that it’s not a children’s song. This is his life and the Cowboys’ 2022 season.
The Vander Ess situation is one of the ugliest elements in pro sports.
LVE is playing on a one-year deal, in the midst of a “Look At Me” season he needed, and now it’s all up in the air.
Before the injury, he looked closer to a player who was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
“All my life I really doubted myself. I’ve had a rough couple of years with injuries and it’s brought me back,” Vander Esch told me after the Cowboys’ win over Chicago on Oct. 30. “I have to appreciate the coaches who believe in my abilities. I worked so hard in the offseason to show them that I still got it even though I had these injuries.
“This is the system for me. They make it easier for me to do my job.”
In the offseason, Vander Esch made some adjustments to his training. She lost some weight and said she felt great.
Before the season, the Cowboys didn’t think Vander Esch would last. They were right.
The area of injury that has plagued him since his time at Boise State is refusing to cooperate. There is little reason to believe that this will ever happen.
In 2016, he suffered a variety of injuries at Boise State that limited him to six games as a redshirt sophomore.
Neck was a concern for NFL teams during the 2018 NFL Draft; The Cowboys took him with the 19th overall pick in the first round.
As a rookie, LVE was outstanding.
Then came the next season.
In 2019, it was a neck injury that required “minimally invasive” surgery. He missed seven games.
In 2020, he had a broken temporal bone. He missed six games.
In 2021, he played in all 17 regular season games. Although he had moments that season when it looked like he might be benched, he was reliable. He also played much better in the last month of the season.
Still, the Cowboys had no faith he would last.
In May 2021, the Cowboys opted out of the fifth year of his original rookie contract. That would be a little over $9 million.
They said it was because of the salary cap. It was because of that neck.
Instead, they offered him a one-year deal worth a maximum of $3 million.
When I asked him about this contract, he took a moment, sighed, and then said, “This is a business and I can think what I want, but it doesn’t matter what I think. You should focus on what you can control.
“If I worry about things I can’t control and spend too much energy on it, then it doesn’t work out well for me. If I can do that, regardless of what I’m getting paid, play and do my job well, the rest will take care of itself.”
He was doing everything he could to sign a multi-year contract.
He is the Cowboys’ leading tackler. When he left Sunday’s game in Jacksonville, the difference was obvious.
The Jags rushed for 192 yards en route to more than 500 yards of offense in the overtime win.
The Cowboys don’t have high-end tacklers in the middle of their defensive line to stop the run, leaving Vander Esch to cover.
LVE did his best to be an effective player again, and the Cowboys were defensive because they thought that wouldn’t last.
Both were right.
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