We’re continuing our countdown to the opening game of the Dallas Cowboys 2023 regular season. Each day we’ll present a new player whose jersey number represents the countdown to opening day. Today is number 82 and a historical player.
TE Jason Witten
Born: 6th May 1982 (41) - Washington D.C
College: Tennessee Volunteers
Draft: 2003, Round 3, Pick 69, Dallas Cowboys
Total Snaps: 13, 958
Yards Per Catch: 10.7
First Downs: 589
11 x Pro Bowl
4 x All-Pro
Most Career games (TE) - 271
2nd-Most Career Receptions (TE)
2nd-Most Career Receiving Yards (TE)
5th-Most Career TD’s (TE)
Christopher Jason Witten left high school and opted to play for the Tennessee Volunteers in 2000, but not as a tight end, as a defensive end. His first year he played some snaps at defensive end but mostly on special teams. Witten’s call to tight end came due to a string of injuries at the position and Tennessee needing players to fill the void. When they told Witten of the role change he initially opted to transfer out and play for another school. After much discussion, they managed to come to an agreement and Witten played primarily as the team’s blocking tight end.
His freshman year playing tight end for the first time ended with him making one catch for 11 yards. By Witten’s junior season, it was clear he had fully transitioned to his role and was playing much more comfortably. He made a historical catch in the sixth-overtime versus Arkansas giving his team the win. He finished the season as the SEC’s leading tight end in receptions and receiving yards. He would declare for the draft at the end of the season and left Tennessee with 68 receptions for 797 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Cowboys would select Witten in the third round, but it was later revealed they had a first-round grade on him. They used their first-round pick to take cornerback Terence Newman, who also had a long and productive career. Also in that year’s UDFA class for Dallas was quarterback Tony Romo. Witten and Romo would become close friends over the years and Witten was a constant and reliable target that helped Romo find success throughout his career.
It didn’t take long in Witten’s rookie season to display his level of determination and playing through pain when he broke his jaw against against the Arizona Cardinals. He would have surgery to repair the injury but he would only miss one game. By his second season, Witten was showing how much of a dominant force he would become. He would lead the NFC in receptions as well as breaking a Cowboys single-season record for receptions as a tight end. This would be his first time being elected to the Pro Bowl and he would go on for the next six consecutive seasons earning a place in Hawaii.
In 2007 versus Philadelphia, two defenders would collide into Witten on a catch knocking his helmet off. Witten continued the play with no helmet and ran for 53 yards. The run would go on to help set up a touchdown and beat the Eagles 38-17. The iconic image of Witten running without his helmet is displayed on a large canvas at The Star in Frisco. The rules on player helmets would later be changed due to Witten’s play.
In 2012, Witten broke two more records when he overtook Michael Irvin in team career receptions. The other tight end record he broke was his 103 receptions for a single season, a record once held by Tony Gonzalez. He won Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2012, this was the second time he had been nominated for the award.
In 2016, Witten continued to break records. Witten broke one record when he scored a game-winning touchdown in overtime against the Eagles making him the first player in franchise history to score a touchdown in 14 consecutive seasons. Then in 2017 he overtook Michael Irvin in Cowboys receiving yards and he also got another team record by going to another Pro Bowl, tying the franchise record on number of appearances with Bob Lilly. Witten announced he was going to leave the NFL for a job at ESPN at the end of the season.
In 2019 after one year in the booth for ESPN, Witten returned to Dallas. He played more of a backup role though. He still caught 63 passes for 529 yards and four touchdowns. At the end of the season he wasn’t re-signed by Dallas and signed with the Las Vegas Raiders. He would play for one season with the Raiders before retiring for good. He signed a one-day contract with Dallas and then took a head coaching role at Liberty Christian School.
Witten broke many records, both for Dallas and the NFL, some of which may never be broken. Most career games by a tight end, most consecutive games by a tight end, most consecutive starts by a tight end and fastest tight end to make 600 receptions are some of the more craziest records on his résumé. He will most be remembered in Dallas as a superb leader, ultimate team player and great team captain. There is no doubt he will one day be called to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it’s just a matter of time.