In an otherwise miserable season for the Dallas Cowboys, tight end Jason Witten reached several positive milestones.
Nov 22 – Witten passed Bob Lily to become the Cowboys’ all-time “iron man,” playing in 196 consecutive games.
- Dec 7 – He caught his 1,000th career reception, becoming only the 12th player and second TE to hit that mark.
- Dec 27 – Witten broke Michael Irvin’s Cowboys record with his 188th consecutive game with a reception.
Without question, Jason Witten will one day sit in the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor and get a bust in Canton. As this stalwart enters his 14th professional season, you have to start wondering how far off those enshrinement ceremonies really are. How much longer can Witten keep playing?
Witten turned 34 last May and hasn’t missed a game since the 2004 season. He has played in 214 total games and started all but 11 of them. He has been a full-time fixture of the offense during his tenure and missed very few plays.
Any Cowboys fans with clear, objective vision can see that Witten is slowing down. He’s still highly effective because his precise routes and chemistry with Tony Romo. Even last year, with backup quarterbacks playing 75% of the season, Witten remained a go-to option and led the team in receptions.
Check out this Top 10 highlight reel from Jason Witten’s 2015 season:
The Jason Witten who once streaked down the field without a helmet doesn’t have those same wheels anymore. Still, as the video shows, he can get open and make the tough catches in traffic. That kind of player can last a long time.
Just ask Tony Gonzalez, the only other TE to be in the 1,000 Catch Club. He played 17 seasons and retired at age 37, having played in all about two games out of those years. Even in his final seasons, Gonzalez never had less than 80 catches.
There will never be a reason to not have Jason Witten around. Some want to link him and Romo together in terms of projected longevity, assuming they will want to retire together. But Romo’s health issues put him in a much different place right now than Witten, who has had very few known medical problems.
Romo (36) is not only two years older than Witten (34) but has chronic back issues that could prompt a retirement at almost any point. At his age it wouldn’t even be considered an “early” exit from football. If his back problems flare up again in 2016, Romo could easily decide to protect his long-term future and end his career.
Nobody knows how much longer Jason Witten sees himself playing football. But the idea that he will want to walk away when Romo does seems a gross assumption. I could just as easily seen Witten, a natural leader with a likely future in coaching, wanting to stick around to help the next Cowboys quarterback make a smooth transition.
Also, it’s not like Dallas has anyone else coming for Witten’s job. Gavin Escobar is close to earning the bust label as he enters his the final year of his rookie deal. The Cowboys just re-signed James Hanna, more of a backup and special teams player, to a three-year deal paying him about $2.5 million per season.
One thing to consider, as it always is in the NFL, is money. Jason Witten’s contract expires after the 2017 season. That year he will count $9.5 million against the cap and the Cowboys could get back $7.4 million of that if he’s released. That’s a huge chunk of change, and Dallas may be looking for some funds if Romo’s still around and they have other moves they need to make.
It’s easy to assume that Dallas would never cut Witten, but there was a time when we’d have probably thought the same about DeMarcus Ware. Ultimately, the Cowboys weighed cost effectiveness and parted ways with Ware despite him being a locker room leader and consummate professional. Sound like someone we know?
I’d like to think that Jason Witten will, no matter how long he plays, always have a star on his helmet. I would’ve loved the same for DeMarcus Ware. But time has proven that the business end will almost always prevail. No player is untouchable.
Don’t believe me?