FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys released linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and receiver Michael Gallup on Friday, cutting ties with two of their top three picks from the 2018 draft.

Vander Esch was released with a failed physical designation after missing 12 games with a neck injury in 2023. The injury was the fourth since 2019 involving the 28-year-old's neck and was considered career-threatening.

After the first neck injury in 2019, Vander Esch was diagnosed with a narrow spinal column and underwent fusion surgery. The latest injury happened when he was pushed from behind in Week 5 against San Francisco last year and jammed his neck into teammate Micah Parsons' right leg.

Vander Esch had issues with his neck at Boise State before the Cowboys drafted him in the first round, and he set a club rookie record with 176 tackles while making his only Pro Bowl.

In part because of the neck issues, Dallas declined the fifth-year option on his rookie contract but brought him back in 2022 on a one-year deal. Vander Esch had one year remaining on a two-year contract.

The Cowboys signed his replacement Friday in linebacker Eric Kendricks, who initially chose San Francisco in free agency before changing his mind. The 32-year-old will be reunited with new Dallas defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who was Kendricks' head coach in Minnesota for his first seven NFL seasons.

The move on Gallup was a cost-cutter for Dallas, just two years into the five-year contract he signed not long after tearing an ACL late in the 2021 season.

A third-round pick out of Colorado State, Gallup had his only 1,000-yard season in 2019, finishing with 1,107 yards and also getting a career high in touchdowns with six. He had just six touchdowns in his final two seasons combined.

Gallup's role was reduced as 2020 first-round pick CeeDee Lamb blossomed into an All-Pro in 2023, with offseason trade acquisition Brandin Cooks taking over the No. 2 role.

More football news


FOR OUR BEST OFFER ONLY 25¢ for 5 months

Unlimited Digital Access.

cancel anytime.