The Cowboys have experienced a lot of turnover on their roster since infamously losing at Green Bay during the 2014 Divisional Round. Most of these changes have been voluntary, as the Cowboys looked to revamp their aging roster with youth and athleticism, particularly in the secondary.
One of the most recent departures wasn’t voluntary on the Cowboys’ part, however, as veteran tight end Jason Witten decided to retire after 15 incredible seasons. Of course, Witten’s retirement leaves a giant hole in the locker room, but most fans had accepted that his exit won’t have too much effect on the field.
After all, Jason Witten’s play has clearly been declining over the last few seasons, especially his ability as a run blocker. The Cowboys haven’t had a “seam busting” tight end whatsoever, and as the league move towards more wide open offense, Witten’s archetype may die off.
Despite that decline, I believe Witten’s retirement will be felt more than most seem to expect. Even in his later years Witten remained the reliable third down option who can get to the sticks and find a way to get open. Sure, Witten only tallied 63 catches for 560 yards a season ago, but he also finished second on the team in touchdown receptions with 5. (Ironically, the Cowboys top two players in receiving touchdowns last season are both now off of the roster heading into 2018).
The Cowboys offense is one built on running the football, but their glaring weakness through the air shined a ton in 2017. Losing Dak Prescott‘s only real reliable target is not exactly ideal.
Since Witten’s retirement, the Cowboys have added a new tight end through the draft. Stanford tight end Dalton Schultz was selected by the Cowboys in the fourth round of this years’ NFL draft, but as a day three pick with limited receiving experience it’s fair to wonder how much he can bring to the 2018 roster.
They also enter the season with veteran Geoff Swaim as TE1 and hype swirling around current TE2 Blake Jarwin. Then there is, of course, the Rico Gathers hype train which refuses to die in spite of the loads of evidence that maybe it should.
The player which may need to pick up Witten’s slack in the passing game isn’t a tight end, however, it’s wide receiver Cole Beasley. Prescott and Beasley seemed to develop a Romo/Witten-like chemistry during Dak’s rookie season, but in 2017 their connection went completely missing.
If the Cowboys offense is going to get back on track, and Witten’s shoes are going to be filled, Beasley could be become a key piece in the passing game.
Especially on those all-important third downs, where Prescott needs to get the ball out quickly and decisively.