FRISCO, Texas -- Leighton Vander Esch will not play Sunday at New England because of a neck injury, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Friday, and it is not clear whether the linebacker will be able to play again this season.
"Leighton was having some symptoms yesterday, so we had him checked out. It was determined that he has an issue in his neck," Garrett said. "He's not gonna be available for this week's game. We don't think it's career-threatening."
Garrett said the injury has to "calm down" with rest.
Vander Esch's injury flared up in practice, which led to an MRI. Garrett said the linebacker was week-to-week.
Vander Esch suffered a stinger during the Cowboys' Oct. 20 win against the Philadelphia Eagles. He did not play the next game, Nov. 4 at the New York Giants, after the Cowboys' bye week, but he started the past two games against the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions.
Last week, he hinted at dealing with more than just the stinger and was briefly knocked out of the Minnesota game because of a back injury, but he did not want to use the injuries as an excuse. He is second on the Cowboys in tackles to Jaylon Smith with 87. Vander Esch also has half a sack, two tackles for loss, three quarterback pressures, a forced fumble and three pass deflections.
As a rookie last season, Vander Esch was named to the Pro Bowl, started 11 of 16 games and was credited with 176 tackles by the Cowboys' coaches. He also had three tackles for loss, five quarterback pressures, six pass breakups and two interceptions.
Garrett said Vander Esch's current issue is not related to the concerns teams had about his neck entering last year's draft.
With Vander Esch out, the Cowboys will turn to veteran Sean Lee at weakside linebacker. Filling in for Vander Esch against the Giants, Lee was credited with a season-high 12 tackles with one tackle for loss and one pass deflection. Joe Thomas will move into Lee's spot on the strong side, but he has missed two practices this week because of an illness.