The Cowboys aren’t just hoping for Jason Witten to be a contributor this season, they believe he’ll be the same player he was before taking a year off.
They say everything is bigger in Texas and that certainly applies to the Cowboys’ expectations for Jason Witten this season. They don’t just expect the 37-year-old tight end to serve as a mentor for his younger teammates. Instead, they believe he’s going to be the same player he was before heading to the broadcast booth.
Quarterback Dak Prescott certainly isn’t holding anything back when discussing Witten. He recently told reporters that the former University of Tennessee standout has returned “better, stronger and faster” than he was when he walked away from the game after the 2017 campaign. As a reminder, Witten caught 63 passes for 560 yards and five touchdowns that season.
It’s certainly possible taking an entire season away from football allowed Witten’s body to recover from the pounding of the previous 15 seasons. It’s reasonable to assume that Witten would enter this year’s OTAs with a little bit of extra spring in his step.
Other players have come back from a year away and played relatively well. Ricky Williams twice came back from missing a season to play effectively. Williams even had a 1,000-yard season after taking time off. But Williams was in his late 20s and early 30s when he did that.
That doesn’t mean the Cowboys should be counting on Witten to give them Pro Bowl production. The coaching staff should not even be counting on him to duplicate the numbers he put up in 2017. It’s a big risk for the team to believe he can come back and be a solid starter this season.
If the Cowboys had better options at the position it’s very likely Witten wouldn’t be in contention for a starting spot. At the moment, he only needs to beat out the likes of Blake Jarwin, Rico Gathers and Dalton Schultz for snaps with the first team. That’s a relatively low bar.
The key for Witten’s season will be managing his workload. If the Cowboys convince themselves he’s ready to play like a Pro Bowler it’s very likely they will burn him out during the first half of the regular season. The Dallas offense will be much better served to use Witten as a specialist. Limiting his snaps to obvious passing downs should help reduce the wear and tear on his body while also allowing him to play the downs where he can provide the passing game the most help.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t look like the plan for Witten. The Cowboys seem prepared to trot him out onto the field until the wheels fall off of his performance. That’s a recipe for disaster in Big D.