Sometimes, tough decisions have to be made in the NFL regarding certain players, and it’s not always easy to know how to handle things. This is especially true when that particular player has meant so much to the franchise and is a fan favorite. This is the kind of situation the Dallas Cowboys find themselves in right now with TE Jason Witten.
Discussing Witten’s play and future with the Cowboys has kind of become the elephant in the room. Nobody really wants to talk about it or think about life without him on the roster. But, I think it’s time we open that can of worms.
Now, before I get started, I want to make it plain that this is in no way a reflection of what I think of Jason Witten as a player or as a human being. I have the utmost respect for what Witten has accomplished on the field, and even more respect for what he has accomplished off of it.
He is the epitome of a true professional and an ambassador of the sport, for not only the Cowboys, but the entire NFL as well.
Unfortunately, we have to start being honest with ourselves.
Jason Witten is No Longer the Player He Once Was
Yes, he is still putting up respectable numbers, but he is clearly starting to decline to the point where the Cowboys need to seriously think about finding his replacement.
Some fans around Cowboys Nation believe the Cowboys already have Jason Witten’s heir apparent on the roster in Rico Gathers, but I’m skeptical. Gathers hasn’t proven anything yet, but has potential.
Regardless, this is something the Cowboys need to figure out during the off-season.
Fortunately, the Los Angeles Chargers were in a similar scenario with Antonio Gates, and the way they handled the situation gives the Dallas Cowboys a blueprint for Jason Witten.
Antonio Gates and Jason Witten have long been regarded as two of the best tight ends in the NFL. Both players have been the face of their respective franchises for over a decade, which makes moving on all the more difficult.
Luckily for the Cowboys though, the Chargers have already started to somewhat phase out Antonio Gates these past couple of years, by drafting Hunter Henry in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
Gates is still an important member of the organization, but with Henry on board, he has seen less and less playing time these last two seasons.
In 2016, Hunter Henry’s rookie season, Antonio Gates played 54.93% of the offensive snaps, compared to Henry’s 53.80%. It was almost an even split in playing time, but the 2017 season resulted in Henry receiving more playing time, 56.26% to Gates’ 47.04%.
At this point in their careers, Hunter Henry is clearly the better player, but it’s obvious the Chargers still value Antonio Gates.
Whether it is out of respect for one of the best players to ever suit up for the organization, or something else, they handled the situation with dignity.
It’s something the Cowboys should take note of and do with Jason Witten.
The only difference is the Chargers had a replacement on the roster. That might not be the case with the Cowboys. I personally don’t believe there is a tight end on the current roster good enough to cut into Jason Witten’s playing time. But, that could change come draft time.
There are a lot of talented TEs in the 2018 draft class. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Dallas Cowboys used one of their 10 draft picks to find Jason Witten’s eventual replacement.
That’s just what good NFL teams do.
The good news is that now the Dallas Cowboys can look at what the Chargers did with Antonio Gates and apply it to how they handle things with Jason Witten when the time comes.