Jason Witten is no longer a member of the Dallas Cowboys. That makes me sad on so many levels. Maybe it was his charismatic smile. Maybe it was his serious demeanor. Or maybe it was the fact that he’s as reliable as the sun. Every day, you could always count on him. Well, the sun has gone down on his career and never again will we see Witten catch passes and meander towards the first-down marker. For 235 consecutive games Witten has been a reliable fixture on this Cowboys team. That is good for the 12th longest streak in NFL history. It’s also the most ever for a tight end. And clearly, it was the longest active streak for any of the current Cowboys players.
With that streak coming to an end, who now holds the Cowboys record for most consecutive games played for an active player? As Sam Quinn of 247 Sports wrote, Witten has now been replaced by Travis Frederick as the teams new ironman.
Right now, according to the NFL’s media-only statistics site, the club leader for the Cowboys is Travis Frederick. He has been in the NFL for five years and has started all 16 games in each season. That puts him at 80 consecutive games played. He isn’t the only Cowboy at that plateau, though. Terrance Williams has also played in 80 consecutive games. But he also plays far fewer snaps than Frederick, who is on the field for every player. Williams has not always been a starter, and given his mediocre play, injured foot and bizarre Lamborghini incident this offseason, may not be on the team for very much longer.
Frederick and Williams are both from the 2013 draft class. In fact, the pick that the Cowboys used to draft Williams was a result of extra draft capital the team acquired when they traded back to late in the first round to select Frederick. The San Francisco 49ers would send Dallas their third-round pick in order to move up to select safety Eric Reid.
Quinn would also go on to say that right behind Frederick and Williams is Zack Martin, who has also played in every game of his career and sits at 64 straight games. All three of these players have now received a second contract with the Cowboys. Frederick and Martin are both All-Pros and are paid very well. Williams is on a “team-friendly” deal that has an even friendlier out next year should his services no longer be needed. Say what you want about his level of play, his dependability still means something.
In fact, dependability has been the theme with the Cowboys first-round draft picks in recent years. Quinn mentions that the next highest player after Martin is Byron Jones who has played in every single one of his 48 games throughout his young career. So, by my count - the team’s 2013, 2014, and 2015 first-round draft picks have been healthy and never missed a single game due to injury. Considering some of the Day 2 risks this organization has taken in the past, that’s a comforting feeling. But does the streak end there?
Well, as we all know, the Cowboys 2016 first-round draft pick was Ezekiel Elliott and in just two years, he’s yet to play a full season. Of course, none of those games missed have been attributed to injury. He missed six games last year due to suspension as well as the season finale in 2016 because of a coaches decision. He was a “healthy scratch” due to the Cowboys having nothing to play for in Week 17 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Both he and Sean Lee were preserved for the playoffs. So, actually - Zeke hasn’t missed a game due to injury as well. While running back is a grueling position, Elliott is a tough player who packs on a lot of muscle. He also has a low center of gravity running style which creates less of a target.
Even last year’s first-round pick Taco Charlton played in all 16 games last season. Sure, he played sparingly as he was still developing and was stuck behind DeMarcus Lawrence on the depth chart, but that’s still a good sign that he’s been on the field every week. In contrast, not a single other NFC East team had their first-round pick play in all 16 games last season. Jonathan Allen (foot), Derek Barnett (groin), and Evan Ingram (ribs) all missed games due to injuries.
Resilient First Rounders - here are the first-round draft picks for each NFC East team over the last five seasons. Players that have never missed a game due to injury are identified in blue. pic.twitter.com/UOCNaMfG8I— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) June 30, 2018
The Redskins would have no first-round pick in 2013 and 2014 due to giving them away in the RG3 trade.
Every single first-round pick over the last five seasons by the Cowboys divisional rivals have missed time due to injury. In the same span, the Cowboys have none of their first-round picks missing action due to injury. That’s amazing.
A lot is made about availability with this organization. All this talk about “right kind of guy” plays a big part in the team’s decision making process. Players that prepare, take care of their body, and go about their business the right way stand a better chance of being on the field on Sundays. Not only do the Cowboys have a resilient group of players here, but they are more than just bodies on the football field. Three of the five are All-Pros. The other two, Byron Jones and Taco Charlton, are still trying to find their niche on the team. Who knows how good Jones will be at cornerback once he gets comfortable at the position. The same goes with Charlton. The surface hasn’t even been scratched with that guy.
Whether you agree with who the Cowboys have selected in the first round in recent years is always open for discussion, but one thing that is not is their ability to stay healthy. The Cowboys have excelled in this area where their divisional foes have failed miserably. In a game that is won by putting good players on the field, continued success in this department bodes well for the Cowboys in the future.