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Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch ruled out vs. Bears

The Dallas Cowboys are in the middle of a playoff race, but their key young linebacker won't be a part of it Thursday.

Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has been ruled out of Dallas' Thursday night contest against the Chicago Bears. He had an interesting response for those questioning his absence, too.

"I want to be able to play for 10 or 12 years," Vander Esch said during an appearance on 1310 The Ticket. "Not four."

Vander Esch, who has a history of neck issues, has not played since Dallas' Week 11 win over the Detroit Lions. The Cowboys have lost two straight since then, falling to 6-6 and allowing the Philadelphia Eagles to hang just a game behind them in the NFC East standings.

Vander Esch is being wise, of course, in regards to his own health, longevity and career earning power. Risking further neck issues by hurrying back too soon could take years off his career. Past greats, such as linebacker Chris Spielman, have seen neck injuries end their careers prematurely, and just last offseason, Bills center Eric Wood retired because of repeated neck issues.

As the NFL continues to legislate its way to a safer game, serious neck injuries have gone down, but the nature of it combined with the highly physical sport that is football makes it a frequently delicate situation. Dallas will have to find a way to win without Vander Esch in the meantime.

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