When you think of Dallas Cowboys future Hall of Fame tight end, Jason Witten, you think of the man who ran nearly 30 yards after getting his helmet stripped off in a 2011 Sunday Night Football rout of the Philadelphia Eagles. Witten is the iron-man who returned from a scary preseason spleen injury to accumulate 1039 yards on 110 receptions during the 2012 season. One word to describe Witten– stalwart. He’s a man who has played all 16 games in 10 of his 11 seasons as a professional.
While Witten has been the definition of consistency since emerging from the University of Tennessee, all good things must come to an end. In football years, Witten is an old man. The Cowboys and their do-it-yourself owner and general manager, Jerry Jones, must ask themselves– is Jason Witten’s heir on the current roster?
The Cowboys are more than collectors of tight ends– their connoisseurs. Since Witten was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2003 draft, the Cowboys have drafted six tight ends to pair with him. They have also not been shy about taking their second-string tight end in the money rounds. Three 2nd round picks since 2006 have been spent on the position– Anthony Fasano, Martellus Bennett, and Gavin Escobar.
However, while the Cowboy’s are not afraid to address the tight end position, other than Witten, they have not received much of a return on that investment. Between Sean Ryan, Fasano, Bennett, John Phillips, James Hanna, and Gavin Escobar, the current and former Cowboys tight ends have amassed 5,585 total yards and 47 touchdowns in their careers. All of which are 4,214 fewer yards and five fewer touchdowns than Witten alone. Fasano and Bennett have turned in average to good NFL careers, but unfortunately for the Cowboys, they were wearing the colors of other teams for most of their successes.
Along with Witten, only Escobar and Hanna remain on the Cowboys current roster. Escobar flaunted an underwhelming nine receptions in his first year as a pro. While Hanna has struggled to stay in competition for playing time as the third tight end. Head coach, Jason Garrett, has dreamed of using multiple tight end sets including formations with tight ends lining up in the backfield. But up until today, those dreams have been unfulfilled.
By watching a game, you can easily decide who quarterback Tony Romo’s safety blanket is. In a pinch, Romo turns to Witten. Even with an all-pro wideout Dez Bryant on the field. Witten makes the tough catch, he runs the right routes, and he and Romo are nearly always on the same page. Escobar and Hanna are not receiving the targets that Witten does because they are currently not at the same level of professionalism. But really, who is?
Witten will go down with the all-time great tight ends– consummate professionals such as Mike Ditka, Kellen Winslow, Shannon Sharpe, and Tony Gonzalez. It might be time to lower our standards for the next first-string tight end in Dallas. The Cowboys don’t need either Escobar or Hanna to be great, they simply need to be good. The Cowboys drafting history shows that it may be a pipe-dream to expect good things from their tight ends since Witten. If Escobar and Hanna can not be at least good, the Cowboys will have to look elsewhere– and hopefully not on draft day.