Jason Witten is back. How do you like them apples?
In a shocking turn of events, the future Hall of Fame tight end has postponed his eventual enshrinement by returning to the Dallas Cowboys. Witten retired unexpectedly last offseason after 15 seasons where he racked up 1,152 catches, 12,445 yards, and 68 touchdowns. Those are all Cowboys franchise records with the exception of receiving touchdowns as he trails Dez Bryant by five touchdowns. But now that Witten is returning, even that record is within striking distance.
Witten’s decision to return is simple - he still loves to compete as he explains courtesy of the Mothership.
“The fire inside of me to compete and play this game is just burning too strong,” Witten said in a statement. “This team has a great group of rising young stars, and I want to help them make a run at a championship. This was completely my decision, and I am very comfortable with it. I’m looking forward to getting back in the dirt.”
It’s great to get Witten back and we can think of a particular quarterback who is thrilled to have one of his most dependable targets back in action, but what does this mean for the Cowboys tight end position group? Witten may be a short-term safety net, but he won’t be around for too much longer and the team needs to press through with “operation tight end rebuild.” Blake Jarwin made a lot of progress toward the end of the season and the team loves what they’ve seen from him. Dalton Schultz also improved as the year went on and fits nicely into the second tight end/blocking specialist role. Geoff Swaim is a free agent and any chance of him returning took a major hit with Witten now occupying a roster spot. Swaim was the team’s most seasoned tight end that they could use as a crutch, but with Witten on the roster, that role is no longer needed. Rico Gathers hasn’t amounted to much so far and his days in Dallas were likely coming to an end anyways.
But what does this mean for the draft? Many have projected a tight end to the Cowboys with their first selection of the draft at pick 58. With a strong draft class of young, talented tight ends available, everything was lining up perfectly for the Cowboys to land one of the more talented players at this position. Is that still a possibility with Witten returning?
In fact, this is a perfect time to grab one as the team will have one of their greatest leaders back on the roster. To be able to get some mentoring from Witten as they enter the league would be such a positive thing for their career.
The Cowboys have to be very responsible with pick 58 as it’s the most precious draft capital they have. If the best player on their board is a tight end, great. If it’s not, pass. The return of Witten should have no effect on this decision. Just as his surprise decision to retire didn’t push the front office into a panic to where they reached for a tight end last year. The team has flourished by remaining patient and collecting talent regardless of the sense of urgency to fill a roster need. And that shouldn’t change.
Having a legend like Witten return is nice for the team, but he’s not a youngster anymore and the team must continue to look ahead to the future. There are some intriguing names of tight ends that could slide all the way to pick 58 and the stock of those players will rise and fall a bit based upon their combine results. It may be worth keeping an eye on this group come Saturday morning.