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:
It's #TopTenTuesdays! Check out the top 10 plays from veteran Dallas Cowboys TE Jason Witten during the 2015 NFL Season. Subscribe to NFL: http://j.mp/1L0bVBu Keep up with NFL every day of the week!
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?
Leighton Vander Esch To Top Rookie Season With Pro Bowl Trip
Dallas Cowboys' rookie Leighton Vander Esch has done enough to prove every single doubter wrong. When Roger Goodell called his name during the 2018 NFL Draft in Arlington, Texas, many in Cowboys Nation rejoiced at the thought of having a young linebacker for a defense surrounded with uncertainty. However, many analysts doubted the draft pick. For a lot of people (sadly, I include myself in this category), the pick should've been used on another player. For most, despite acknowledging his raw talent, Vander Esch wouldn't be able to provide the Cowboys with an instant impact player. Ah, well.
After a remarkable season, Vander Esch (a.k.a. Wolf Hunter) has earned a spot on this season's second-team All-Pro. When the Pro Bowl voting began, Vander Esch was snubbed from the ballot itself. It didn't took the NFL long to realize their mistake and add the Cowboys' linebacker to the list. Despite missing the cut at first, Vander Esch will be heading to Orlando to play in this year's Pro Bowl on January 27th.
DallasCowboys linebacker @VanderEsch38 has been added to the 2019 Pro Bowl Roster. 🐺 Congratulations, rookie! → https://t.co/AYqEUy2tZx
The former Boise State Bronco will be replacing Carolina Panthers' LB Luke Kuechly, who won't be participating because of an injury.
Vander Esch racked up 140 tackles (per Pro Football Reference), ranking third in the league in this category. He finished the season as the fifth best linebacker in Pro Football Focus' rankings.
But numbers aren't really enough to fully appreciate what Vander Esch did for the Dallas Cowboys. A team that was used to seeing its defense break when veteran Sean Lee went down injured, did not only get someone to fill in for Lee. Vander Esch actually upgraded the Cowboys' defense. It didn't matter where the ball went, he was always around when opponents were tackled. His speed and chance of direction allowed him to run sideline to sideline, covering a huge portion of the field.
Along Jaylon Smith, Dallas managed to have one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL.
The last time a defensive rookie from the Cowboys went to the Pro Bowl was in 1981, when Everson Walls made the team. Vander Esch is the 11th rookie in team history to be selected to the Pro Bowl. This year, the rookie will be accompanied by DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Ezekiel Elliott.
Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program
Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.
After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.
Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire
While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.
It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.
Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.
That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.
But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.
Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.
For Cowboys to Beat the Rams, Dak Prescott must Lead the Way
In the NFL wins and losses often come down to quarterback play. That isn't to say that if a team wins, it was all because of the quarterback and inversely, if a team loses that it was all on the quarterback. Teams win or lose games. Generally speaking, however, the quarterback has the highest amount of influence on the outcome of an NFL game. This will be no different for the Dallas Cowboys this Saturday when they take on the Los Angeles Rams in the LA Coliseum. For America's Team to make their first trip to the NFC Championship Game since 1996, Dak Prescott has to have a good game.
This looks to be a good matchup for the Dallas Cowboys offense, which should allow Dak Prescott and the Cowboys to take advantage in certain areas.
A few Rams Passing Game Notes
- The Los Angeles Rams were middle of the pack against the pass this season, allowing the 14th fewest passing yards in the league this season.
- The Rams allowed 7.7 yards per attempt. Dak Prescott is averaging 7.6 yards per attempt since week 10 of the season.
- The Rams allowed the eighth most passing touchdowns in the NFL this season. They and the New Orleans Saints are the only teams in the top 10 of passing touchdowns allowed in the playoffs this season.
- The Rams were 15th in the NFL in sacks, with 41, but Aaron Donald accounted for half of that with 20.5 sacks on the season. No other player had more than five sacks.
- They were third in the NFL in interceptions, collecting 18.
- The Rams allowed the ninth highest yards per completion on the season at 11.8. So on average, every completion went for a first down.
Dak Prescott is playing as well as any quarterback in the playoffs at the moment. Over the last nine games, he's averaging 272 passing yards, two total touchdowns, was only intercepted four times, and was sacked on average 3.2 times per game.
On Saturday night, we saw Scott Linehan put the ball in his hands on a couple designed runs that nearly scored touchdowns. It was an excellent addition to the offense that could help fix the Cowboys red zone woes. Getting Dak Prescott running on some designed runs or quarterback draws could help slow down Aaron Donald and the pass rush.
The Cowboys needed every bit of Dak Prescott magic to overcome a stingy Seattle Seahawks defense in their Wild Card win and they'll need him to step up again this week against the Rams. Every team is going to attempt to take away the running game to make Dak beat you and as he continues to mature, he's getting more and more comfortable doing that. He's comfortable with the big stage and the big moments.
Dak Prescott Since 2016, including playoffs * 15 game-winning drives (Most in NFL) * 13 primetime QB wins (Most in NFL) * 19 rush TD (Most in NFL by QB) #DallasCowboys @dak
No Quarterback in the NFL has more game winning drives, rushing touchdowns, or wins in primetime than Dak Prescott. When we talk about Dak Prescott, we talk a lot about the things that he can't do as a passer and deservedly so, he still has some growing to do in that area, but in the things that you can't objectively quantify -- mental toughness, resiliency, clutchness, will, determination -- Dak is one of the best in the NFL. He's as mentally tough as they come in the NFL and he doesn't let the spotlight or the game situation phase him. He has that stuff that's hard to put your finger on.
The Dallas Cowboys will need more of that on Saturday night in Los Angeles. The Rams can score and can score in bunches and if the Cowboys defense starts sluggish or has an off night, they'll need Dak Prescott to keep them in the game. Even if the defense has a good game, Dak still has to come through in the passing game and on the ground to give the Cowboys a chance to pull off the upset.
The Dallas Cowboys are going to try to run the ball against the Rams on Saturday. That's their identity; run the ball, control the clock, and be efficient in the passing game. Prescott, either with his legs or with his arm will have to make some plays to extend drives and keep the Rams offense on the sideline. He'll need to be sharp in the red zone to convert those opportunities into touchdowns. Settling for field goals against the Rams is how the Cowboys get beat.
This matchup with the Rams looks to set up nicely for Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys, yet how things look on paper doesn't mean much when the lights go on and the whistle blows. It's a big stage and it's another win-or-go-home game for the Cowboys (like every game has been over the last nine weeks). In a big game, you need big time players, and the Cowboys have one in quarterback Dak Prescott.
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