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Walker: Is Jason Witten faster, leaner & stronger in return to Cowboys?

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  • Walker: Is Jason Witten faster, leaner & stronger in return to Cowboys?

    By PATRIK WALKER May 24, 12:32 PM

    Don't assume Jason Witten is done after 2019.

    Only a few months into 2019, he already loves it more than the year prior, and not simply because he's back playing the sport he loves so dearly. It's also because, by Witten's assessment, the Dallas Cowboys' roster is like nothing he's been a part of before.

    "Yeah, I think it’s close,” Witten said, via Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "The most talent I’ve seen."

    Witten originally made the decision to remain with the Dallas Cowboys in 2018, but had a change of heart that led to his retirement last spring. From there, he'd follow in the steps of former Cowboys before him — most recently best friend and former teammate Tony Romo — in trying his hand as an NFL color analyst. Set to be the replacement for a departing Jon Gruden, who was leaving ESPN Monday Night Football to take the head coaching reins for the Oakland Raiders, the table was set for Witten to potentially be the next Romo — wherein lay the true problem. The bar had been raised so high by Romo in his first year with CBS that unless Witten was equally as football intelligent, witty and charismatic as his former quarterback, the chances were he'd be met with a mountain of criticism.

    And so it was, Witten struggled in his transition to broadcasting and every gaffe became sensationalized thanks to the stage he was operating on and the expectations surrounding him. The future Hall of Fame tight end mustered through it all with grace and a smile, but having now returned to the Cowboys for his 15th season, he admits the narrative formed about him as a broadcaster and the criticism attached to it "sucked".

    Having picked up his equipment, been assigned a new locker (he holds firm that offensive linemanZack Martin deserves to remain in the old one that was re-assigned after retirement) and reported for OTAs, Witten hasn't stopped smiling. Given his uber-competitive nature and the fact he's now home, both literally and in a figurative sense, it's difficult to fathom him walking away yet again one year from now. And that's why, despite having signed only a one-year deal with a $2 million base salary, he's not ruling out playing again in 2020.

    "Every football player wants to win," Witten said, via Mike Leslie of WFAA Channel 8 in Dallas. "And certainly when making a decision like this, I'm envisioning holding Lombardi trophies and competing for championships."

    If you didn't catch that, he spoke in plurality.

    You don't have to be a Aristotle to figure out that even if the Cowboys win a Super Bowl in 2019, plural indicates a return in 2020, and if he does play in 2020 and that turns out to be the franchise's sixth Super Bowl win as opposed to 2019 — you then can't rule out Witten suiting up in 2021. This is of course all contingent upon how things look in Dallas as early as next season, with head coach Jason Garrett currently without an extension and other variables very much in play, making it a bit premature to make presumptions about two seasons from now.

    As it stands, though, you truly get the feeling he'll be on the field come one season from now, and that's why he's not stiff-arming that idea.

    "I think it's up in the air, and you gotta let it play out," Witten said. "I approach it like I'm a rookie because those 1,100 catches don't matter. I feel like I gotta prove it. And not with a chip on my shoulder or anything like that, but you gotta go show it.

    "That's the challenge, and it's really invigorated me in a lot of ways to approach it that way. ...So I'm embracing that, but I think it'd be foolish to try to get ahead of ourselves of 'how long'. Certainly, I made the decision to play, so I want to play as long as I can."

    Prior to his initial retirement, Witten declared he'd like to play until he's 40, and he'll be 37 years old when this coming season gets underway.

    You do the math.

    Additionally, speaking from the first wave of OTAs, Garrett said Witten's strength and conditioning numbers in his return either match or exceed what they were before he took a year off. This sheds a bit of light on why the Cowboys opted to not address the tight end position in the 2019 NFL Draft. He certainly looks the part early on in offseason conditioning, with some both inside and outside of the organization raising an eyebrow. The year off certainly helped, because he's clearly still been conditioning while also being 100% fresh and healthy from having not taken any hits since December 2017.

    It's almost like he's not 37 years old at all, considering he's testing better than his 35-year-old version, thanks to the 2018 handshake with Father Time.

    Given the progression of Blake Jarwin and with Witten back in the mix, the next step is to continue developing Dalton Schultz for the future of playing behind/alongside Jarwin once Witten hangs up his cleats again — whenever that may be. Considering Rico Gathers is presumably warming a seat at the moment, and newly-signed Codey McElroy is as much a project as Gathers was, the top of the depth chart is set at the position and the only thing to be worked out now is who gets to remain on at the bottom for insurance purposes.

    If they feel Witten is in play for 2020 as well, and a tandem of Jarwin and Witten — or Witten and Jarwin, rather — could be their two-year plan that began as a one-year bridge combo, then it also explains why they not only passed on drafting a TE, but also refused to sign one in undrafted free agency.

    Witten continues to stress he still has "gas in the tank", and those who keep waiting for his fuel light to illuminate might be in for a surprise.
    2016 DCC LOTY Fantasy Football Champion

  • #2
    I would love to see if McElroy can knock Rico off the roster.
    Last edited by p1_; 1 week ago.
    defense wins championships

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    • #3
      Sorry...Witten should have stayed in the TV booth, or headed into a coaching role. He's slow, is good for 2-3 false starts per game (at the most critical times) and is simply going to keep the Cowboys from addressing the TE position moving forward.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by UncleMilti View Post
        Sorry...Witten should have stayed in the TV booth, or headed into a coaching role. He's slow, is good for 2-3 false starts per game (at the most critical times) and is simply going to keep the Cowboys from addressing the TE position moving forward.
        2-3 false starts per game?



        Holy shit.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by NoDak View Post

          2-3 false starts per game?



          Holy shit.
          At least one per game. Solid.
          defense wins championships

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          • #6
            Originally posted by p1_ View Post

            At least one per game. Solid.
            Not even close. He has never had SIXTEEN false starts in a season.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by NoDak View Post

              2-3 false starts per game?



              Holy shit.
              You do know I was being a wise ass, right?

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              • #8
                Witten also good for one snap per game over Romo’s head.

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