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How Jason Witten’s return changes the tight end landscape in Dallas

The unexpected return of Jason Witten to the Cowboys will change how Dallas looks to address the tight end position for the 2019 season and beyond.
Credit: AP
Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten (82) warms up before an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

The Dallas Cowboys have reached an agreement to bring tight end Jason Witten back to the team and away from the broadcast booth with ESPN. There was speculation that Dallas and Witten were in talks for a reunion during the playoff run last season but the team denied any talks. It becomes clear now that playing football is still Jason Witten’s top desire even if it means giving up a lucrative post-football career. 

Witten will be returning to the field for his 16th season in Dallas where he holds many team records and many other top spots at his position in overall league history. The vocal voices on social media hinted that fans weren’t too thrilled with his performance as a color analyst on Monday Night Football so it was likely an easy call for a man who will someday wear the Gold Jacket in Canton as he looks to extend his Cowboys record-setting number of years played with a star on his helmet.

Depending on whether or not Witten can make his return at a level that approximates his years as an elite pass-catcher, the reunion could prove to be rather fortuitous for Dallas. After Witten’s surprising retirement last April, the Cowboys have been in need of a tight end who can prove to be a chain-mover and security blanket for QB Dak Prescott. After a season where tight end production was spotty at best, Dallas is hoping there’s no better replacement than the actual man himself. 

RELATED: DeMarcus Ware wants to know if he should come out of retirement like Jason Witten

And yet, the return isn’t without issues. The signing of the future Hall of Fame tight end shouldn’t change the need to look for a long term option. Witten will be 37 years old by the time the season starts and his new tenure in Dallas can’t be counted on to continue beyond a year-to-year basis. 

The goal should be for him to contribute to the team while also helping to groom the future tight end of the Cowboys, whether that be one of the prospects in this class or one on the roster like Blake Jarwin or Dalton Schultz.  

The news of Witten’s return comes as a surprise to many simply because you can never assume a player will come back after retirement. Without him, the Cowboys were set to be tasked with upgrading a position this offseason that relied on a veteran in Geoff Swaim who is now an unrestricted free agent and the two aforementioned youngsters in Jarwin and 2018 draftee Schultz. 

The names linked to Dallas at tight end were a myriad of prospects in a draft deep in tight ends hopefuls and Tyler Eifert, who is almost nine years younger than Witten but is coming off an injury. Despite Eifert’s youth, availability still reigns supreme. Eifert has only played 14 games over the past three seasons, while Witten has missed one game in 15 seasons, not counting the 16 he missed last year while taking a vacation from the sport to see if he could take to television like his buddy Tony Romo before him. 

Jason Witten has a ton of career accomplishments to his name with the most games played, most games started, most receptions, and most yards in Dallas Cowboys history. With just five touchdown receptions in the upcoming season, he can match Dez Bryant for the most receiving touchdowns in team history. 

RELATED: That time Jason Witten ran 30 yards without a helmet against the Eagles

Given the accolades already accumulated, it’s easy to see why Witten felt comfortable walking away from the game last spring. His legacy is secure. The call to try to get the Cowboys over the hump in the playoffs proved too great, however.

The question now remains, should the Cowboys elect to draft a young talent to sit and learn from one of the best tight ends to ever play the game or should the move on from using resources at a position where they just retained one of the all-time greats?

This reunion allows the Cowboys to be a little more flexible come draft and free agency time and not be pigeon-holed into one position because of the perceived huge need. It remains to be seen as to how much Witten can contribute but it appears that a lot of fans will be happy to see No. 82 out there again.

Do you think that the Cowboys should still draft a tight end to groom under Jason Witten or should they worry about other positions now that their future Hall of Famer has returned? Share your thoughts with Patrick on Twitter @DraftCowboys.