Cowboys targeting replacements for former Pro Bowler dealing with career-threatening injury - Sport News

Cowboys targeting replacements for former Pro Bowler dealing with career-threatening injury

On Tuesday, Dallas Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones refused to provide details about Leighton Vander Esch, who suffered a season-ending neck injury in 2023. Dallas eyeing linebackers at the scouting combine in Indianapolis isn’t a good sign.

Cowboys targeting replacements for former Pro Bowler dealing with career-threatening injury

According to Cowboys staff writer Nick Harris, Dallas had a formal interview with Texas A&M’s Edgerrin Cooper and an informal meeting with Texas’ Jaylan Ford.

Vander Esch has a history of neck injuries. He underwent neck fusion surgery in 2020 and missed four regular-season games with a neck stinger in 2022, via Yahoo Sports.

As reported by the team’s website, the latest injury could force the 28-year-old to retire, which would be a massive loss for the Cowboys’ defense. The former first-round pick has recorded 469 tackles and made one Pro Bowl in six seasons with Dallas.

Outside of Vander Esch and three-time Pro Bowler Micah Parsons, the Cowboys are thin at LB. Backup LB Damone Clark posted a below-average 61.8 Pro Football Focus grade in 17 games last season. They also converted safety Markquese Bell to LB, which yielded mixed results.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. rated Cooper as his best off-ball LB in the draft class, while Ford was his fifth-best. In 12 games, Cooper logged 83 total tackles and eight sacks. Ford, meanwhile, is a turnover machine. Per PFF, he tied for second in the FBS in fumble recoveries (two) and sixth in forced fumbles (three) in 14 games.

The Cowboys run defense — which finished 18th in the league in rushing yards allowed (114.1) — needs improvement. Solving this issue becomes more difficult if they lose one of their best players. Targeting two potential replacements helps Dallas prepare for this scenario.

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