Just yesterday it was announced that Jason Witten is coming out of retirement and returning to the Dallas Cowboys in 2019. This stunning development certainly changes the landscape for the tight end position, but it doesn’t mean the Cowboys won’t make any moves during the offseason.
Before Thursday, many felt that Dallas would make improving at TE one of their top offseason priorities. Their 2nd-round pick in the 2019 draft, which is highest one that the Cowboys have this year, has been seeing a lot of tight ends in mock drafts. There’s also been a lot of talk of veteran free agents like Jared Cook or Tyler Eifert heading to Dallas.
Other than the newly resurrected Witten, the Cowboys have Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, and Rico Gathers under contract next season. Last year’s starter, Geoff Swaim, is an unrestricted free agent.
Some have rushed to the assumption that Jason’s return settles things at TE for 2019. It gives you the veteran mentor and at least two young prospects in Jarwin and Schultz, with Gathers’ likelihood to return next year still hard to project.
But Jason Witten’s name is far greater than the last few years of production, and now he’s been away from the game for a year. Can Dallas really count on him to improve things from last year?
Bigger question; should the Cowboys really be out of the TE market this offseason?
The team’s intention for further offseason business may be seen in the modest contract that Jason’s signed to come back. According to reports, Witten is only going to cost $3.5 million in 2019.
That doesn’t prohibit the Cowboys from adding other talent. It actually may set them up perfectly for adding someone like Tyler Eifert, a former first-round pick who’s been battling health issues for three seasons.
Getting Witten back helps mitigate the risk on Eifert. Plus, Jason appears ready to accept a lesser role than what he’s had in the past.
Cowboys source says Jason Witten will play somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 snaps per game, and will share time with the young TEs on the roster, so as to not stunt their growth.
To put that in perspective, the Cowboys had about 67 offensive snaps in each game last year. If Witten truly plays around just 25, that would clearly make him rotation player.
Do you want those other 40-45 snaps going to the likes of Jarwin and Schultz, or do you want some more upside?
There’s a bit of hype around Blake Jarwin coming off his December play and especially the huge game in the team’s regular season finale. He posted a whopping 117 yards and three touchdowns against the New York Giants.
That final month was the bulk of Jarwin’s 2018 production; 20 catches for 220 yards in four games. The three scores in New York were his only touchdowns the entire year.
However, in Dallas’ two playoff games, Blake had just five catches for 32 yards total.
How much of that is on Scott Linehan and Dak Prescott, and how much is on Jarwin? That’s hard to answer.
Before yesterday’s big news with Jason Witten many were projecting a TE to the Cowboys with their 58th-overall pick in the second round. Some will probably back off from that now, but that might be an overreaction.
There’s not enough evidence yet to suggest that Jarwin or Schultz can be the long-term starter. If Dallas doesn’t want to go the route of adding a free agent like Eifert, drafting someone high to rotate with and learn from Witten still makes a lot of sense.
One name that has been commonly mocked to the Cowboys for 2019 is Jace Sternberger out of Texas A&M. But it’s a TE deep class by almost all analyses, so perhaps the Cowboys can afford to wait until a later round to get a player of consequence.
The key point here is that the surprising return of Jason Witten doesn’t mean the Cowboys are done at tight end this offseason. It gives them some security, but it doesn’t solve the issues of trying to speed up the offense and get more big plays in the passing game.
How much Dallas likes Blake Jarwin is arguably the biggest factor here even with Witten’s presence. That will dictate how much action they have in the tight end market this offseason, whether it’s in free agency or the draft.