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Jason Witten: How Much Longer Can He Go?

Jess Haynie

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Jason Witten

In an otherwise miserable season for the Dallas Cowboys, tight end Jason Witten reached several positive milestones.

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    Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    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:

Top 10 Jason Witten Plays of 2015 | #TopTenTuesdays | NFL

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.

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AP Photo/Sharon Ellman

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?

Cowboys Headlines - Jason Witten: How Much Longer Can He Go?



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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BREAKING: Cowboys TE Rico Gathers Receives One-Game Suspension

Jess Haynie

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Rico Gathers

Tight End Rico Gathers already had an uphill climb to return to the Dallas Cowboys' 53-man roster in 2019. But that climb just got even steeper; the NFL handed down a one-game suspension to Gathers today for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

If he does make the team this year, with Dallas or anyone else, Rico will have to sit out Week One of the season without pay.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

Cowboys TE Rico Gathers is suspended without pay for the first game of the 2019 regular season for violating the NFL's policy and program on substances of abuse. This is from his arrest in 2018 for marijuana possession.

Gathers' chances of returning in 2019 were already hurt by Jason Witten's reversed retirement. He dropped to fourth on the TE depth chart behind Witten, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz, and Dallas only kept three tight ends last year.

The Cowboys also added Codey McElroy as a developmental player during the offseason.

While the suspension is news, the incident that led to it is not. Dallas already knew about the arrest, which occurred in early September of 2018, and have kept Gathers around up until now.

The NFL's substance abuse system is pretty formulaic, so the Cowboys likely anticipated this suspension all along. This may not change anything about how they value Rico Gathers for the 2019 season.

Nevertheless, a player who can't help you in Week One and is a liability for ever longer suspensions down the road is definitely a red flag against Gathers' job security.



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Antwaun Woods: Cowboys DT is Just Getting Started

Matthew Lenix

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Antwaun Woods is just getting started

Antwaun Woods went undrafted in 2016 coming out of USC. After two years with the Tennessee Titans, he would only see one game of action. In May of 2018, the Cowboys signed Woods to a two-year contract worth 1.05 million. Probably seen as nothing more than a practice squad guy, Woods would quickly show he was much more than that.

The newly acquired Woods started his climb to stardom in Oxnard during training camp, and not for making plays. One day during practice he got into a friendly game of fisticuffs with All-Pro Center Travis Frederick. The team even posted the video on social media, which had fans buzzing and wanting to know who he was.

All-Pro Running Back Ezekiel Elliott echoed those thoughts when he saw Woods during camp. "Honestly, when we first got him, we were like, 'Who is this guy?'. He was giving Travis Frederick, one of our best players, hell all camp. Just trying to figure out where this guy came from," Elliott said.

Once the regular season started it was clear the Cowboys had found a hidden gem. Although the sack numbers won't dazzle you, seeing as he only registered 1.5, you could forget about running the ball anywhere near him. Woods has amazing quickness for a 300 pounder which allows him to extend his arms before offensive lineman can get a hand on him.

How significant is that? It becomes that much easier to bull rush and blow running plays up in the backfield.

When you can get your hands on an offensive lineman immediately when the ball is snapped, he's basically under your control. You can move him around like a puppet on a string. Essential for a 1-technique nose tackle. With that being said, there should be no surprise the Cowboys finished fifth against the run in 2018 with Woods manning the middle.

Woods draws a lot of double teams, and he handles them well. Having the ability to take on multiple linemen frees up your other playmakers. As the anchor in the middle, Woods made life a lot easier for not only his fellow defensive linemen but the team's two young star Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. Allowing them to roam freely like Lions in the Serengeti makes running backs essentially Zebra's carrying the ball, cooked food. So much so that both tallied over 120 tackles and were the only teammates in the NFL to rank in the top 15 in that category.

There's nothing but upside with Antwaun Woods. He's only had 18 games of experience in three years. He's already a stud, but with limited snaps, it can only mean he'll be even more formidable going forward.

The Cowboys have a loaded defensive lineman group with around 15 bodies, plenty of competition. All signs point to him remaining the starter, but it's not guaranteed. Even with that being said I don't expect a complacency from Woods, especially with DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn looking like the only sure starters on the defensive line. Plus this is a contract year for him, so you know he'll be even more motivated as he tries to maximize his dollars. We've only seen the tip of the iceberg from this raw talent, setting up for a potential breakout year for him in 2019.



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Cedrick Wilson: Cowboys WR Could Shine After a Year Off

Matthew Lenix

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Cedrick Wilson could shine after a year off

The departure of Cole Beasley to Buffalo via free agency in March left a hole at the slot receiver position in Dallas. The team signed veteran Randall Cobb about a week later, but only to a one year deal. Names like Tavon Austin and Allen Hurns along with Cobb are looked at as the replacement for Beasley but don't forget about Cedrick Wilson.

Selected in the sixth round in 2018, Wilson was coming off an impressive and highly productive two-year career at Boise State. Tallying 139 receptions for 2,640 yards and 18 touchdowns in just 26 games.

When OTA's began last season, the rookie was already turning heads with his route running, ability to create separation and athleticism, but unfortunately, disaster happened not long afterward. Wilson would suffer a shoulder injury that placed him on injured reserve for 2018, the same shoulder he had issues with in college. A not so fairy tale beginning to an NFL career.

Although his time on the field was short-lived last summer, he definitely caught the eye of wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal.

"Ced's a savvy, smart football player. He picks things up really well. He applies them to the field. In terms of technique, he's one of the best if you watch him. His stance and start is really good. He comes off the ball with low pad level. He's eating up ground and then has a nack to make a big play over the top on a big post," Lal said.

Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb make up a very formidable receiving core, and adding a healthy Wilson to that could work wonders. His experience on the outside and the slot gives offensive coordinator Kellen Moore plenty of options. Slot receivers are usually harder to bump off the line with the extra few yards of cushion they get, giving them more options route wise seeing as they can go inside or out a lot easier than outside receivers. That's where Wilson's supreme route running can come into play. Also, with his ability to separate on the outside and beat corners deep, you can play him opposite Amari Cooper and put Cobb in the slot with a combination of either Gallup, Austin or Hurns in a four-wide receiver set, the possibilities are endless.

A setback can be a blessing in disguise if approached in the right manner. Wilson hasn't let the year off derail his focus on what he's trying to do in Dallas.

"Coming back off the rehab was tough in general. But definitely a year of just seeing how everything goes, the speed is definitely slowing down. Just getting back in the playbook and learning from older guys of what I need to do and doing what the coaches expect of me," Wilson said.

The competition won't be easy for Wilson, though, as other young up and coming receivers are fighting for roster spots as well. UDFA's (Undrafted Free Agents) Jon'Vea Johnson and Jalen Guyton will also be fighting for snaps during mini-camp, with the former already making waves during OTA's. Reggie Davis has also turned a few heads in the summer, a fellow UDFA himself trying to find a home after bouncing around the league between four different teams since 2017.

It's all about health for Cedrick Wilson at this point. Can his shoulder hold up enough to allow his skill set to make a contribution to the Cowboys in 2019? The talent is there, along with the praises of his position coach, now it'll be interesting to see if this potential diamond in the rough can shine under the bright lights of AT&T Stadium.



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