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Cowboys news: Honoring Jason Witten, what’s next for the Cowboys at tight end?

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NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Cowboys pen open letter to Jason Witten - Todd Archer, ESPN
Several of Witten's teammates got together and wrote a letter to him, expressing how much he meant to them over the years. It was very touching.

To 82,

We have two words: Thank you.

Thank you for setting the standard for us. Thank you for showing us the right way to go about it. Thank you for the incredible impact you made in football, but maybe more important in our lives. Thank you for being our conscience in tough times.

When we all came into the NFL we were looking for guidance. You were that guy. You had done it. You had breathed it. You had lived it. But what made it special is you gave us all you got.

And they would go on to say...

We felt your pain because we know how much a championship meant to you and we wanted so badly to win one, not just for us, but for you. We will always carry that regret that we didn’t do enough for you to have that trophy in your hands.

But that pain will not be our lasting memory. We will remember the times you held court at the head of the table on those training camp nights, telling us story after story. You had us rolling. We will remember those speeches you gave us. Because of you, we know the secret is in the dirt.

Witten also had a message for all us fans...

He made us proud each and every game. He also left us with this little factoid in case any NFC East fan decides to start downplaying his ability.

Jason Witten Represents Everything You Want in Football Player, Man - Jean-Jacques Taylor, NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
Jason Witten is an inspiration to everyone around him. As Jason Garrett said, "he is the standard" and he's the definition of of what a man should be, so alert the dictionary people.

Witten officially ended a spectacular 15-year career Thursday that included 1,125 catches, 12,440 yards, 68 touchdowns and a franchise record 229 games to begin a career as lead analyst for Monday Night Football.

He revealed the secret of his success during a emotional 16-minute ceremony at the Star, the Cowboys’ billion-dollar training facility, attended by players, coaches, teammates and virtually every member of the Cowboys’ organization.

“Whenever young kids come up to me and ask me, 'How do you grow up and play for the Dallas Cowboys, and have that type of career?'" Witten said. "My answer was always the same, the secret is in the dirt. I was never the most talented, never the flashiest, I relied on grit."

It's true.

No one worked harder to make himself the NFL’s most complete tight end in an era where the position has morphed into soft, oversized receivers who have forgotten they’re supposed to block.

Dallas skyline lights up in honor of Cowboys legend Jason Witten - Jared Dubin, CBS Sports
The team honored Witten at The Star, but they weren't the only one paying tribute to this Cowboys great.

Given Witten's contributions to the team (he's fourth in NFL history in receptions and holds basically every Cowboys receiving record except for touchdowns) and the Dallas area (he's well known as one of the league's most charitable players and is a former Walter Payton Man of the Year), it's pretty cool that the city decided to honor him as well. Witten deserves all the praise he's getting in the wake of his career's end, and it should be enjoyable to see him embark on the next part of the journey as well.

The Dallas skyline never looked so good.

Witten’s relationship with his teammates is unrivaled and you can just tell the amount of respect they all have for each other. Witten tries to remain professional amidst a Zeke rant in the background. He does a good job for the most part, but Zeke finally gets him to break.

Hey, Cowboys fan. Can you ace the ultimate Jason Witten quiz? - Kristi Scales, SportsDay
Think you're a Jason Witten expert? Make sure to try Kristi Scales' quiz and see just how much you know about the Cowboys legendary tight end. I got an 80%.

Admit it, if you’re a longtime Cowboys fan who watched Jason Witten announce his retirement, you probably had to wipe your eyes a couple of times, dry a few tears. After all, who doesn’t love Jason Witten?

But how big a fan are you of No. 82? You know he’s the all-time receptions leader in Cowboys history, and you know he’s the team captain. But how much do you know about his entire career, going back to the early days?

So what’s next at tight end for Dallas?

Have the Cowboys given up on TE project Rico Gathers? - Newy Scruggs, SportsDay
Newy Scruggs answers some questions about draft picks, new receivers, and the big mystery that is Rico Gathers.

Have the Cowboys given up on Rico Gathers?

Scruggs: No. The Cowboys will give Rico Gathers and opportunity to show his skills but he has yet to doing anything significant in a regular season game.

It doesn't have some long college resume of production so they can hope he improves but Dalton Schultz was drafted in the fourth round and might start if Witten does retire.

Gathers is a hope. The team hopes he can become a contributor. They hope he can be the next Jimmy Graham or Antonio Gates, guys who were former college hoops players like Gathers. I prefer to deal in reality instead of hope. Gathers will need to show the coaching staff something this season or they may cut bait with him after the 2018 season. As of now, the Cowboys have not given up on Gathers.

Cowboys' Rico Gathers: I'm going to be next best TE - Kevin, Patra,
One thing is for sure, Rico believes in himself. The 24-year old developmental tight end posted this message on Instagram back in February.

"Facts is facts," Gathers wrote. "It's only the beginning. Truth is I'm Ready for more. Been ready for more. The dilemma of me not being ready is over. I got a piece of it last year and it felt so good doing it, y'all will never understand that feeling. It was like the most epic scene of movie before the power goes out in ya house for a few hours and you forget all about what you was watching. I watched those two games the other day and I told myself "Ima be the next best tight end in this league" and I believe that with all my heart. lol y'all continue to hate while I continue to shine I love y'all, y'all make me better. God Knows my heart and that's all that counts to me. #Blessed #HumbleandHungry #LemmeEat #IWantTheWholePieThisTime #NewSZNSameRZN #killeverything"

Rico’s right about one thing. Watching him perform last year was like an epic scene from a movie and then out of nowhere, things went dark. Suddenly, we’ve all forgotten what was going on so let’s turn those lights back on for a moment and rediscover what we were so excited about...

If the Cowboys are looking for a red zone threat, we now take a break from your regularly scheduled tight end news to bring you this tidbit of information:

Those top two names look awfully familiar.

Okay, now back to the tight end stuff...

Predicting Every NFL Team's Biggest Rookie Surprise - Ian Wharton, Bleacher Report
The Cowboys have several rookies that are going to be exciting to watch this year. From a new athletic linebacker in Leighton Vander Esch to the third-round value of Michael Gallup. And of course, let's not forget second-round steal and new starting left guard Connor Williams. But which rookie will be the biggest surprise? Bleacher Report goes through all 32 teams and guess who they picked for Dallas?

Dallas Cowboys: TE Dalton Schultz

The former Stanford Cardinal was never an overly productive player in college, totaling just 55 receptions, 555 yards and five touchdowns in three years. So expectations aren't for him to become a Pro Bowler, but he's also athletic enough to become more than a depth piece as a rookie. Schultz will be a contributor for this Cowboys passing attack in 2018.

His main competition for the starting job will be project Rico Gathers and third-year tight end Geoff Swaim. Neither has built any clout for the team to put faith into, leaving the door wide open for Schultz. As a fourth-rounder, he would be a good return on investment as a second tight end, and winning the job would be a big surprise.

Blake Jarwin is the tight end we should be watching - Reid Hanson, Sport DFW
The Cowboys drafted a good inline blocking tight end and they still have the upside appeal of space tight end Rico Gathers. And while fans are excited to see what those two guys can do, there is another name people need to remember.

Blake Jarwin

Blake Jarwin is a player worth knowing this preseason. The former Oklahoma State do-it-all tight-end/full-back combo came to the Cowboys last year as an UDFA. With Oklahoma State he played on the line, spread out, and in the backfield. He regularly pass-blocked, run-blocked, and occasionally caught some balls.

Throughout the season, Jarwin showed something. His route-running and blocking started to get come on – enough so that Dallas’ higher-ups took note. So when the Philadelphia Eagles started sniffing around, the Cowboys didn’t hesitate in protecting their asset by adding Blake Jarwin to their roster. The move spoke volumes. Dallas, competing for a playoff spot, were already three-deep at TE. The last thing they could afford to do was “waste” a roster spot on developmental player like Jarwin. But they did.

Who's left at tight end? What Cowboys roster, free agent options look like after Jason Witten - Jon Machota, SportsDay
Jon Machota previews all the Cowboys option at tight end, including a guy nobody thinks much about, despite now being the team's most experienced player at the position.

Geoff Swaim

He is now the veteran of the group. Swaim is the only tight end on the roster to catch a pass in an NFL game. In three seasons, he has nine catches for 94 yards. Swaim started two games last year and six in 2016. The 2015 seventh-round pick out of Texas should start and see his receiving stats increase in 2018.

Cowboys leadership vacuum: Who will lead in 2018? - Ehsan Azad, Dallas Sports Fanatic
Filling the void left by Witten isn't limited to just finding a tight end to play his snaps. There is a lot more to it, including finding another leader in the locker room. Who is the next man up?

The one player who is ready to take on the mantle of being the face of the franchise is also the most senior member of the defense, linebacker Sean Lee.

Lee’s play allowed him to be defensive play-caller on the field early in his career and was one of the early moments of his leadership capabilities. Add in the fact he is constantly watching film in his free time, Lee has started to show the work-ethic that rivals Witten. Lee is almost now a de-facto coach even, sometimes leading film room sessions with the defense as seen on the new Cowboys documentary series “All or Nothing”. His fellow players respect him and know that he is the heart and soul of the defense.

If anyone is ready to take over the mantle of leader from Witten, Sean Lee is the best and only candidate right now.

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