Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch will miss Sunday's game against the New England Patriots after his neck injury flared up during Thursday's practice, coach Jason Garrett told reporters on Friday.
Garrett said it is possible Vander Esch could miss the rest of the season. The second-year-pro underwent an MRI exam after the practice incident.
"Leighton was having some symptoms yesterday, so we had him checked out," Garrett said. "It was determined that he has an issue in his neck. He's not gonna be available for this week's game. We don't think it's career-threatening."
Vander Esch has been dealing with neck issues for nearly five weeks. He suffered a stinger during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 20 and sat out the following week prior to the team's bye.
He returned to play in Dallas' past two games -- against the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions. He briefly left the Minnesota game due to a back injury.
The 23-year-old Vander Esch was thought to be progressing when he wasn't on the injury report this week.
"Hopefully we get him back fairly soon," Garrett said. "We think it just needs to calm down and it just needs a little time to do that."
Garrett said he didn't think the latest neck woes are related to the ones Vander Esch dealt with in college at Boise State. The situation was a red flag to teams prior to the 2018 NFL Draft, before Vander Esch went 19th overall to the Cowboys.
Vander Esch was a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie when he racked up 140 tackles and intercepted two passes. This season, he has 72 tackles.
Veteran Sean Lee is scheduled to start in place of Vander Esch on the weak side. Lee had a season-best 12 tackles when he filled the spot for Vander Esch against the New York Giants on Nov. 4.
Joe Thomas, who is dealing with an illness, will move into Lee's strong-side position if he is available.
Lee said he is hoping for the best for Vander Esch.
"I know he's frustrated with injuries just like I've been in the past because of how much he loves football, how much he wants to play," Lee told reporters. "He's going to face adversity head on and come out of the backside dominating."