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Winners and Losers of Jason Witten’s Return to the Dallas Cowboys

John Williams

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Dallas Cowboys TE Jason Witten Retiring, Joining MNF Broadcast Booth

As shockingly as he left just before the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Jason Witten returned to the gridiron with an equal amount of surprise as the Dallas Cowboys announced the return of their future hall of fame tight end.

It was a surprise to many, though the rumors persisted throughout the 2018 season, even into the playoffs. Jason Witten coming back provides a necessary veteran presence within the Cowboys tight end group that began to make a name for themselves at the end of last season.

Witten’s return is excellent for the Dallas Cowboys as they attempt to be the first NFC East team to defend their division title since the Philadelphia Eagles run in the early 2000’s.

Getting a player that is as respected as Jason Witten is, with the track record he has, is a huge coup for the Cowboys front office.

As we say each offseason leading up to the draft, the Cowboys will use free agency to fill needs to give them flexibility to focus on players and not on needs. Witten being added to the tight end group with Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin will make for a really solid trio of tight ends that will all get a shot to contribute in 2019.

is Jason Witten still a 100 catch TE in the NFL? Not at all. He’s a serviceable player that can still help you win games.

Here’s how the return of Jason Witten will affect the Dallas Cowboys.

Winners

Dak Prescott

The Dallas Cowboys seem ready to pay Dak Prescott a hefty sum of money to be their franchise quarterback. It’s time to start providing Dak with as many weapons as you can get your hands on and despite a year off, Jason Witten will be a weapon in 2019.

He may not be as effective of a player as he was in his prime, but he’s still going to offer the things that have always made Jason Witten great; savvy route running, reliable hands, and toughness in the middle of the field.

In Dak Prescott’s rookie season, Witten caught 69 passes on 91 targets for 673 yards and three touchdowns. When targeting Witten, Prescott had a passer rating of 102.5. Witten turned 33 of his receptions into first downs or 47% of the time.

In 2017, Witten caught 63 passes on 81 targets for 560 yards and five touchdowns. Prescott has a passer rating of 116 when throwing to Witten. Witten caught concerted 26 of his passes into first downs.

It took a while for Dak to become comfortable throwing to Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz, but once he found a groove with them, began throwing their way more often. Down the stretch Jarwin and Schultz provided solid play, but in the playoffs, they were largely absent from the passing game.

Witten provides Dak another friendly face in the offense that he can count on in crunch time. It’s especially important if Wide Receiver Cole Beasley walks in free agency. Having someone who can win the middle of the field as consistently as Witten can, is a huge asset.

Salary Cap

Though it was first being reported as a one year $5 million contract for Witten’s to come out of the Monday Night Football booth, it was later reported to be a deal for $3.5 million in 2019.

Whatever the number might be is of little consequence when it comes to the salary cap.

If the projected salary cap of $190 million holds true for 2019, at $3.5 million, Witten will only take up 1.8% of the Dallas Cowboys salary cap in 2019.

That number ranks 23rd in the NFL among TEs. If you take Jason Witten’s Numbers overs 2016 and 2017 and average them together, he finishes as a top six tight end option against the 2018 production.

There are a lot of people who feel that this is a big number for a guy who is about to turn 37. Compare that to Sean Lee who will count $10 million on the 2019 cap and will take up 5.2% of the $190 million in cap space. That’s a huge difference between a guy who can’t stay healthy in Lee and a guy who hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season.

Jason Witten is coming to the Cowboys on a relatively cheap contract. There’s little risk to bringing him back and seeing what happens.

Jason Garrett

Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett gets one of “his guys” back in Witten. Those two have been together forever. Witten is a player and a leader that Garrett can rely on to get his message across and reinforced on one of the youngest teams in the NFL. IF you scroll social media for even a bit, you can see how much the players love Jason Witten and are excited about his return.

2019 could very well be Jason Garrett’s final season in Dallas as he was not offered a contract extension this offseason. Garrett needs to find playoff success this year for the Cowboys to re-up him for the future. Bringing back a veteran presence like Witten, and going big in free agency, is huge for Garrett. The Cowboys have built through the draft for years without taking any bites out of the free agent pool. With a deep safety market that includes Earl Thomas and Landon Collins, the Cowboys are looking to upgrade at that position to continue pushing toward a sixth Lombardi.

Monday Night Football Viewers

I hate to take a shot at Jason Witten, because he’s one of my favorite Cowboys, but he wasn’t good on Monday Night Football, and that may be generous.

Typically he seemed awkward and several times he said the wrong thing. Like when he said, “pull a rabbit out of his head.”

It was fun seeing Witten calling games, but slightly painful to hear him doing analysis for ESPN. There’s zero doubt that he knows the game and knows it well, it’s just his delivery never seemed comfortable.

The Monday Night Football experience looks like it could get better if the ESPN casting people pursue either a Peyton Manning or Kurt Warner or Nate Burleson.

Jason Witten

Because he flopped in the booth, he likely saw that his future in the league was going to be as a coach. That’s no knock on Witten. It takes a different type of talent to analyze the game and then share that analysis in a smooth and entertaining way. Witted just didn’t seem to have it.

Now. He gets to return to the field and restore his good name as Jason Witten the football player.

Losers

Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz

No matter how you slice it, the move to sign Jason Witten our of the booth will negatively affect the snap counts of Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz. Even if Witten only plays 25 snaps a game that will cut into Jarwin and Schultz’s snap count.

According to Warren Sharp’s SharpFootballStats.com, the Dallas Cowboys lined up in 11 personnel 70% of the time. Their 500 plays in that personnel grouping were third in the NFL behind the Los Angeles Rams and Indianapolis Colts.

When the Cowboys threw the ball, they did so out of 11 personnel 82% of the time. When they ran, they used 11 personnel only 53% of the time.

This is where things are going to get tricky. Of the other 30% when they weren’t in 11 personnel, the Cowboys used multiple tight ends 21% of the time or for 182 snaps.

The Cowboys used a single tight end 77% of the time.

So, if Witten is only coming back to play about 25 snaps a game, that’s 400 snaps over the course of the season. Meaning he’ll be taking some single tight end alignment snaps from Jarwin or Schultz.

I think the Dallas Cowboys really like Jarwin and Schultz. It’s possible that Witten is more of an insurance policy if the coaches don’t like what they see from Jarwin or Schultz. The coaching staff will get them on the field as much as possible to see if either can stand out as a starting option in 2020.

Every snap they get this offseason, during training camp, the preseason, and the regular season will be incredibly valuable in proving they are the long-term answer at tight end.

The snaps they’ll get however, just shrunk.

Tyler Eifert

Team “sign Tyler Eifert” took a hit yesterday with the news of Witten’s return to the Dallas Cowboys.

Eifert is a name that has been thrown around a lot since he posted an Instagram video of him working agility drills. As the brother-in-law to Zack Martin and with the Cowboys having a need at TE, Eifert looked to be a perfect opportunity to find a low cost-low risk option in free agency, freeing up the Cowboys to go another direction in the draft if they do choose.

Witten, seemingly has taken that mantle from Eifert as the Cowboys veteran insurance policy to the two youngsters.

It’s not impossible that the Cowboys still pursue Eifert, but if they didn’t that would be a damning statement to how they feel about Jarwin, Schultz, or both.

2019 Tight End Draft Class

The 2019 draft class is loaded this year. There are potential starters as deep as the fourth round by most people’s estimations. It’s been rumored that the Cowboys were going the address the tight end position. Most Cowboys fans figured that meant through free agency or the draft.

Little did we know they were going to go shopping in the booth.

Tight ends who are likely to be slotted in the second or third round likely saw a place where they could be drafted fall off the table.

Now, if the Cowboys want to draft a TE, they can wait until the later rounds of the draft to do so. They aren’t locked in at 58 or 89 into taking a tight end. And that’s exactly where they like to be.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Obviously it remains to be seen just how well this move will turn out for the Cowboys, but I’m optimistic. If they’re serious about limiting his snaps to get Jarwin and Schultz on the field, it will Ben a good move as they try to develop a couple of players who showed flashes of pro level production on 2018.

There hasn’t been a player who fully embraced and embodied the identity of the Dallas’s Cowboys in the 2000’s. He’s been an iconic player for the team and personifies everything that Jason Garrett wants his team to be about.

Who knows what the production will be on the field. It may not be that great. The intangibles that Jason Witten brings to an NFL locker room are hard to put a price tag on.

One thing is for certain, having number 82 back out on the field is a big win for the Cowboys and Cowboys Nation.



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could. Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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Guillain-Barre Syndrome: Travis Frederick’s Health Still a Concern?

Brian Martin

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Concerns About Travis Frederick's Health Still Justifiable
George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It's been nearly a year since Dallas Cowboys Center Travis Frederick was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), an autoimmune disease. And although all signs are pointing towards him making a full recovery and regaining his starting job, there are still some lingering concerns about his health.

Travis Frederick didn't miss a start in his previous five seasons with the Dallas Cowboys before being diagnosed with GBS. He was an Ironman and was the anchor for the Cowboys talented offensive line. But battling injuries and an autoimmune disease in which there is a lot of unknown about still are two different animals. It's the unknown here that still carries some concern.

What is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

According to the Mayo Clinic, Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) occurs when the body mistakenly attacks its own nerves, specifically the peripheral nervous system, which connects the brain and the spinal cord to the rest of the body. This can result in a wide range the nerve-related symptoms, including tingling, prickling, or pins and needles sensations; muscle weakness; difficulty walking, talking, chewing, or swallowing; pain; and, in severe cases paralysis, which can become life-threatening if breathing is affected.

As with many autoimmune diseases, experts don't fully understand what causes GBS. There is still a lot of unknown about this disease, and that includes how to treat it and recover from it. However, when diagnosed early, like in Frederick's case, the chances of stabilizing sooner rather than later are pretty good. Although, the recovery process can be a slow one, anywhere from a few weeks to a few years.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome Cure and Recovery Time?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for GBS at this current time. There are a couple of treatments which has shown some success, although patients respond differently which makes determining a person's recovery time nearly impossible.

According to the Mayo Clinic, most people recover within 6 to 12 months. However, about 30% of people still experience lingering weakness three years after a diagnosis, reports the Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and about 15% continue to have weakness long after that. Hence, the lingering concern about Travis Frederick and his future health.

Travis Frederick's Optimism

Despite all the unknown with GBS and how it's affected Travis Frederick's life, he sounds pretty optimistic his health is trending in the right direction.

"I feel really good about where I am at. Both in recovery from Guillain-Barre syndrome and the offseason surgeries that I had done. We are just starting to get to the end of the shoulder rehab. That will start to free up a little bit of my activities. But as far as (Guillain-Barre syndrome) goes, I feel really, really good. It's gonna be hard to tell whether I'm back exactly 100 percent until I can go against another player at full speed in full pads. I don't think we're actually going to know until training camp. But all signs are currently pointing to really good things."

As if we didn't already have enough to keep an eye on once the Dallas Cowboys start training, Travis Frederick certainly jumps to the top of the list. How he is able to respond in some "live-action" practices should help determine where he's at healthwise. Hopefully for his sake, and the sake of the Cowboys, he's back to 100% or as close to it as possible.

Are you concerned about Travis Frederick's health heading into 2019?



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Report: Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott Planning Training Camp Holdout?

John Williams

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Ezekiel Elliott: NFL's History with Domestic Violence Shows Inconsistency, Hypocrisy 2

All offseason, the possibility of a new contract for Dallas Cowboys Running Back Ezekiel Elliott has been a hot button issue among media and fans alike. Not because Ezekiel Elliott isn't a great player and worthy of top running back money, but because the idea of paying running backs north of $15 million a year isn't as simple as, "Is he worth it?"

There is significant evidence that the running back position experiences a significant decline in production around their age 28 season and few running backs play into their 30's with good to elite production. Ezekiel Elliott, though he's experienced heavy usage in his first three seasons, could be the exception to the rule.

Well, knowing his worth to the Dallas Cowboys he's expecting a heavy payday at some point in the next couple of seasons. Elliott is under contract through 2019 and the Cowboys picked up his rookie option for 2020. So, technically, Elliott wouldn't be a free agent until the 2021 offseason. However, much like in the case of Todd Gurley, Elliott's looking to get paid early to maximize his prime years as the Dallas Cowboys running back.

Within the last hour, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk released a report that Ezekiel Elliott is planning on holding out of training camp if he doesn't receive a new contract, per a "league source." It should be noted that Mike Florio has had some missteps in his reporting of Dallas Cowboys news, most notably the perpetuating a rumor that Dez Bryant was caught on videotape doing something at a Wal-Mart, that would have a "Ray Rice type of impact." A tape that has never been discovered or produced and a story that's completely died off since it was originally reported in 2015.

Given the recent news that Melvin Gordon is planning a training camp hold out, it should come as no surprise that Elliott is being mentioned similarly. ESPN even mentioned the idea of Elliott and a looming contractual holdout in a piece earlier today, but their prediction pointed to 2021 and wasn't a report based on fact or a source, but a prediction for next year.

The two-time NFL rushing champ is scheduled to count $7.9 million in 2019 and just over $9 million in 2020 against the salary cap. His salary for 2019 is only $3.8 million. Elliott certainly has earned the right to be paid like Todd Gurley ($14.37 million per year), Le'Veon Bell ($13.13 million per year), and David Johnson ($13 million per year) despite having two more years on his deal.

In looking at the long-term impact of Elliott's contract, I've advocated that if the Dallas Cowboys intend to pay Elliott, now's the time to do it. A contract extension now, that adds three or four more years onto his existing deal would get Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys to his age 28 or 29 season. In a well-structured contract, they'd have opportunities to get out at the back end if Elliott experienced a significant decline in production.

Ezekiel Elliott's contract is going to continue to be a hot button issue until he's either signed to an extension or it's made known that the Dallas Cowboys have no intention of extending him. Currently, there aren't any other sources confirming Elliott's plan to hold out of training camp, which starts July 27th, but it's a story that we'll continue to follow here on InsideTheStar.com.

Update: 7/16/2019 10:42 am.

Charles Robinson, Senior Reporter for Yahoo! Sports provided some insight into the thinking of Elliott and his representation.

It certainly seems like holding out is on the table for Ezekiel Elliott and his representation, but no decision has been made at this point.

Check back with us for updates on Ezekiel Elliott's contract extension. 



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Dallas Cowboys 2019 Training Camp Preview: Safety

Jess Haynie

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Xavier Woods

The Dallas Cowboys' safeties may have the been the team's most-talked-about position during the 2019 offseason. Dallas declined making a splashy free agent signing, or even a high draft pick, and that means safety is still a hot topic headed into this year's training camp.

Fans hoping for an Earl Thomas signing or a Juan Thornhill drafting have had to settle for veteran George Iloka and 6th-round rookie Donovan Wilson. These new arrivals don't bring the sizzle that many wanted, but they do add intrigue to the battle for roster spots and depth chart positioning.

Here's the projected safety depth chart right now for the 2019 season:

  1. Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath
  2. George Iloka, Kavon Frazier
  3. Darian Thompson, Donovan Wilson
  4. Jameill Showers

A big reason the Cowboys didn't spend big at safety is Xavier Woods, who is a rising star on defense entering just his third season. Dallas' strategy appears centered around Woods' development, hoping he will anchor the position and make everyone look better.

Woods' fellow starter could be Iloka or the returning Jeff Heath. It is assumed that these two veterans will battle it out for the strong safety job, with the loser being a versatile and experienced backup.

Heath has the advantage of experience with the Cowboys but Iloka has more starting experience overall with 79 games to just 41 for Jeff. You also have to think that Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard had a hand in selecting Iloka from the free agent pool, likely coveting his 6'4" size.

Even if Iloka does win the starting job Heath should remain a valued reserve and special teams leader. His $2.95 million cap hit for 2019 isn't that high for someone who fills those roles.

Regardless of starting jobs, we expect all three of those players to make the roster. It's below them where actual roster spots are on the line.

Cowboys Training Camp: 5 Fringe Players Fans Should Follow

Dallas Cowboys safety Kavon Frazier (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

After three years at backup safety, Kavon Frazier is facing some real competition for his job in 2019. Not only is there the aforementioned rookie Donovan Wilson, but reserve Darian Thompson may already be moving ahead of Frazier on the depth chart.

Thompson was a 3rd-round pick of the Giants in 2016, the same year that Dallas drafted Frazier in the 6th round. He was named a starter in Week 2 as a rookie, but got hurt that game and missed the rest of they ear. He started all 16 games in 2017, but then was injured again and released prior to the start of the 2018 season.

After less than a week on the Cardinals' practice squad, Thompson got signed to the Cowboys' roster last October as a reserve. They re-signed him this offseason, and reports from mini-camps and OTAs had Darian getting second-team reps in practice over Kavon Frazier and other prospects.

If Thompson has ascended, the biggest concern for Frazier and Donovan Wilson is just how many safeties the Cowboys keep. They've kept five before but could easily go with just four, and that might leave two talented players out in the cold.

If Frazier and Wilson do wind up battling for that fifth and final spot, the rookie may have the edge thanks to youth and his four-year contract. Kavon is a free agent next year, so Dallas might elect to keep the younger, cheaper option for further development.

From starting jobs to just keeping The Star on their helmets, these safeties have a lot to fight for in 2019. It's been one of our most interesting positions to watch all offseason, and that won't change when we head into training camp.

~ ~ ~

OTHER 2019 CAMP PREVIEWS



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