Jason Witten couldn’t see what’s going on in a huddle as well as Tony Romo can, so he’s going back in for a closer look, apparently.
Not only will this make for better TV, the Cowboys will look a lot better, too.
Witten’s shocking return after a season in the Monday Night Football booth gives Dak Prescott a little security with Cole Beasley’s potential exit; frees up a draft pick for a defensive line suddenly leaking oil; and improves the Cowboys’ chances of going deeper in the playoffs next year.
Witten certainly wanted to play again, of that there’s no doubt. No Cowboy of recent memory has ever loved all aspects of the game quite so much. Even said he looked forward to “getting back in the dirt.” A glamour puss, he’s not.
Witten missed plenty about the game, but he’s returning for something he missed in 15 seasons: a legitimate Super Bowl shot.
“This team has a great group of rising young stars,” Witten said in a release announcing his intentions, “and I want to help them make a run at a championship.”
Notice he said “young stars.” Not “stars.” Or “young guys.” Witten believes in the roster Jerry Jones has built and its potential, both in the short and long term. Frankly, your intrepid reporter can’t disagree.
The Cowboys might not have beaten the Rams in the divisional game even if Witten had been present at tight end. He’s not much of a run-stopper. Just the same, he’d have helped their chances.
The question is, how much will he play now? Maybe you remember how hard it was to get him off the field the first time around. Fans want Rico Gathers? Hey, Martellus Bennett is still waiting his turn. Jason Garrett’s tight end corps improved over the course of the season in Witten’s absence, but there’s nothing quite like him on the roster. Two-way tight ends are nearly an anomaly these days. Witten’s best days may be over, especially in yards after the catch, but he remains a potent blocker and fine route runner. Better yet, he gives Dak a reliable target, especially in the red zone.
Best bet: Witten won’t play as many snaps as he’s used to, but it’ll be enough to give defenses someone else to account for.
Kellen Moore will make good use of his new/old toy. As has been previously noted in this space, the Cowboys will not suddenly become the Chiefs or Saints now that Scott Linehan is no longer in charge of the offense. Dak isn’t exactly Patrick Mahomes or Drew Brees. Nor does he necessarily need to be.
A few tweaks on pass routes, a little pre-snap motion and the return of Travis Frederick at center would have made for nice upgrades.
A healthy dash of Witten helps the mix as much as any of the above.
Besides giving Dak a familiar face in times of stress, Witten’s return means the Cowboys don’t necessarily have to spend a pick at tight end. The one who best fits the Cowboys’ profile, Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson, is fast rising up draft charts into the upper tier of the first round. His ascent becomes a moot point now.
On a one-year deal at a reported $3.5 million, with incentives that could run it to $5 million, Witten takes the edge off immediate need at the position and gives Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz time to develop.
Meanwhile, Witten’s return means the Cowboys can devote more attention in the draft to the defensive line. They needed more quality and depth even before Randy Gregory’s failed test. Now they can spend the 58th pick at a position of need, if they weren’t leaning that way already.
As for who will replace Witten on Monday nights, I suppose there’s always another Cowboy out there somewhere. David Irving looks like he could be available.
Witten got a little roughed up in reviews as a TV analyst, but we’ll assume he’s otherwise in good shape and well-rested for his return. No one pushed him out of the booth, he said. He was simply “burning” to come back. We’ll take him at his word.
Thursday’s news went over big with Dirk Nowitzki, who gave Witten a shout out on Twitter. Dirk has already dropped hints that might not be done after this season. This could give him ideas. A run on old dudes wouldn’t be such a bad thing, if I say so myself.
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