The roster turnover is about to begin. Free agency opens in less than one month and the 2017 NFL Draft isn’t far behind it. Over the next two months, the Cowboys will lose and replace a sizable portion of their roster.
For every new face, however, there are dozens of familiar ones who will return to begin a new campaign. From established veterans to second-year players, the vast majority of the Cowboys’ 2017 team is already on the roster. In the coming weeks, the staff of DallasCowboys.com will preview those players, analyzing where they’ve been and where they’re going.
Today we’ll continue the series with tight end Jason Witten.
What’s Been Good: Got a few hours? The list of what’s been good with Witten is a long one. He’s a surefire Hall of Famer who just this past season moved up to seventh in NFL history for career receptions (1,089) while posting at least 60 catches for the 13th time, only the third player and second tight end in league record books to do so. The 2016 campaign also saw him surpass Lee Roy Jordan for the most consecutive games started by a Cowboy (163) as well as Ed “Too Tall” Jones for the most games started overall (213) in team annals.
What’s Been Bad: Father Time catches up with us all eventually. Witten will be 35 years old when the 2017 season gets underway, which in terms of the NFL qualifies him for senior citizen status. Not that he’s shown severe signs of slowing down. His 673 receiving yards last year was his lowest total since his rookie season of 2003, but he still caught 72.6 percent of the passes thrown his way and continued to get the job done blocking in the running game.
2016 Highlight: The single most entertaining moment of the 2016 season might have been Witten hauling in Dez Bryant’s pass for a touchdown against the Detroit Lions on Dec. 26. But the veteran tight end proved he’s still got plenty left in the tank when he ripped off eight catches for 134 receiving yards against the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 6, the sixth-highest total of his career and his first time topping 100 yards since posting 135 on Dec. 29, 2013 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Witten also got the Cowboys on the board with a first-quarter touchdown, leading the team to a 35-10 romp.
What’s Next: You can count on more records being broken as the march toward Canton continues. And those marks will surely fall while in a Cowboys uniform. Witten is in the final year of his five-year contract, but the team could easily extend his deal and create a little more cap space, a notion that makes sense considering that, while he’s getting up there in age, Witten can still be a key component of the offense for the immediate future. From a long-range point of view, though, the only real concern for the Cowboys might be trying to groom a replacement who’s ready to take over when Witten’s inevitable retirement comes. As long as he’s here, he wants the ball, making development of a protégé a little more difficult. Nevertheless, enjoy him while you can, folks.