Veterans Sean Lee and Jason Witten are both free agents in 2020 and, despite their ages, seem intent on continuing their playing careers. But while many fans loathe the idea of seeing these great Cowboys finish their careers in other uniforms, a quick history lesson shows that they would be in pretty good company.
Witten is the tougher of the two blows, having played in Dallas since 2003 and being one of the biggest names in franchise history. Jason’s not only the best tight end in team history but is on the short list for his position in all of football.
Lee’s spent a decade with the Cowboys since 2010 and has persevered through multiple injuries to remain a beloved figure. When he was healthy, Sean was as good a linebacker as you could ask for.
Naturally, some fans want to see these players finish in Dallas and perhaps compete for a Super Bowl in 2020. They’d hate to seen Jason and Sean join the list with Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and others who never got a ring with the Cowboys.
But sometimes we have to accept the reality of football; nostalgia and persoinal attachment are far more likely to cost you games than win them. Loyalty is certainly important, but at what cost?
This 2020 offseason already has the most unthinkable of ideas, Tom Brady playing somewhere other than New England, as a major plotline. If Brady can land with a new team, Witten and Lee are hardly immune.
All we have to do is look at a few of the greatest players in Dallas Cowboys history to see how often this really happens.
The image of Emmitt Smith in a Cardinals uniform is iconic its own right as one of the go-to examples of a legend who didn’t retire with his original club. It’s usually either Emmitt or Joe Montana in a Chiefs jersey; take your pick.
Smith played 13 seasons in Dallas before Bill Parcells finally pulled the plug, forcing the all-time rushing leader to find work elsewhere. But as difficult as it was to stomach at the time, that brief time in Arizona did nothing to tarnish Emmitt’s legacy with the Cowboys or the league.
A much more recent example is DeMarcus Ware going from a cap casualty in Dallas to a Super Bowl champion in Denver. Most of us were happy for Ware to get a ring however he could, though certainly not without the sting of it being with another team.
Oh, and don’t forget who the quarterback of that Broncos team was. You think Colts fans liked seeing Peyton Manning in another uniform?
Another example you may have forgotten about is Larry Allen’s late two-year stint with the 49ers. Another financially-motivated move, Allen was released by Dallas despite being the greatest guard, and maybe offensive lineman overall, in NFL history.
The list could go on and on. We could talk about Brett Favre with the Jets and Vikings, Jerry Rice as a Raider and Seahawk, or Reggie White’s one year with the Panthers. It happened to the best of them.
This isn’t to say that we can’t be sad to see Sean Lee or Jason Witten playing for other teams in 2020. That’s perfectly reasonable.
But the notion that “they should finish their careers with the Cowboys” is a luxury, not a necessity, and a privilege that many greater players in NFL history have not enjoyed.