A lot has been happening, and really not happening, with the Cowboys over the course of the last few weeks. We’ve been so focused on different emerging, absent, and struggling players that the subject of a returning one has gotten lost a bit.
Yes, it’s true that Jason Witten is going to be back with the Cowboys this season after a year away in ESPN’s Monday Night Football booth and it’s hard to know what to expect from him. The Witten of Oxnard definitely looks a bit younger and most feel after the team’s second preseason game that they did indeed see a better version of the tight end in Honolulu.
Of course, Witten believes in himself and what he’s going to do this season. He wouldn’t have left such a high-profile job (cue the “they were going to force him out anyway” takes) if he didn’t believe that he could still contribute. And think what you will of the Cowboys front office but they wouldn’t let the future Pro Football Hall of Famer hover around like some sort of mascot if they also didn’t agree that he can contribute to a significant degree.
The subject of this is one that NBC’s Peter King asked Witten about during his training camp tour. King has a podcast that drops on Wednesdays where the full conversation with Witten will appear, but he published a piece of it in his weekly Football Morning in America column.
“Are you going to be any good?” That’s the last question I asked Witten for “The Peter King Podcast” when I saw him the other day in training camp. He’s 37, coming off a year in TV.
“That’s a great question. Yeah. I’m gonna be really good. So many times, when you come back … What’s your role? … Listen: I’m not gonna get caught up in the roadkill of that. I think I’m gonna be really good. I’ve worked hard. My expectations have always been more than anybody’s put on me. Will I catch 100 passes? Probably not. Can I help this team win football games? I believe so. That’s the ultimate challenge. I gotta show that. This young team, it’s a talented roster. The impact you can have on a daily basis … every day I’m thinking, How can I make them [teammates] better through my personal experiences? It’s a show-me game. I was taught that early on, as a 21-year-old kid, green as can be, coming into Dallas. You better be able to show it. I’ll live with the results, because I know what I’m all about.”
It’s been a long time since Witten caught 100 passes in a season, the 2015 season was the last time to be exact. Truthfully, though, that was a bit of an outlier over the final years of his career as he did it just once from 2014 to 2017, but he had seven straight seasons of over 100 receptions from 2007 through 2013.
So much of why Witten might not be “the same” guy in 2019 doesn’t necessarily have to do with him specifically. While he’s done a great job of fighting off various drafted tight ends (Anthony Fasano, Martellus Bennett, Gavin Escobar, quite the club) things have seemingly finally fallen into place for there to be another contributor at the position - Blake Jarwin.
It will be interesting to see what Witten’s role truly ends up being this season. Having him back feels like playing with house money to a degree, hopefully the Cowboys are able to cash in.