Dallas Cowboys: Shannon Sharpe

NFLN survey/most respected: Cowboys

January, 16, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- With all that Peyton Manning has accomplished in his career with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos, there is no doubt why he is the most respected player in the NFL, according to an anonymous survey of 320 players conducted by ESPN.

Closer to home, there is no doubt Jason Witten is the Dallas Cowboys' most respected player.

Witten earned five votes in the league tally. DeMarcus Ware earned three.

In 11 seasons, Witten is the Cowboys' all-time leading receiver. He is second to Michael Irvin in receiving yards in franchise history. Only Tony Gonzalez has more catches as a tight end in NFL history. By next season he should pass Shannon Sharpe for second place in most yards all-time by a tight end. He set a record for catches in a season by a tight end with 110 in 2012. He has been named to the Pro Bowl eight times. He could make his ninth trip depending on the outcome of Sunday's conference title games.

With Witten, however, it is more than just numbers. It is physical and mental toughness. It is dedication. It is a belief in doing things the right way. He has missed only one game in his career despite numerous injuries, including a ruptured spleen in 2012. He does not miss offseason workouts.

"He's a great football player," coach Jason Garrett said after the season-ending loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. "He's the best tight end in football and has been for 10 years. He's just a helluva player, as special a guy as I've ever been around. He just is a unique individual. It's no surprise to me or any of us that he played as well as he did in this big game for us. That's what he's done his whole life. He's a great example to his teammates, a great example to his coaches about how to do things and I love him.

"I love him to death. He just does things the right way. He puts more into this than anybody I know. His commitment is as strong as anybody' and it's just disappointing for him. Again, he can walk out of the locker room with his head high and shoulders back because he does [it] the right way and he's done it the right way for a long time. He's going to be a Hall of Fame player and he's a Hall of Fame individual as well."

Five Wonders: Quick decision on staff?

December, 31, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- For the next six or seven months the Dallas Cowboys will be wondering about the plays that could have made the difference in finishing 8-8 for the third straight year or making the playoffs.

We're just wondering about five things in the end-of-season installment of Five Wonders:

Away we go:
  • I wonder if the Cowboys make quick decisions in regards to their coaching staff. The decision to fire Rob Ryan last year came 11 days after the season ended. With six teams looking for head coaches, the Cowboys would be wise to make any moves sooner rather than later. A lot of times the search for assistant coaches becomes a game of musical chairs. They often just switch golf shirts and gym shorts. You don't want to be the last team looking for assistant coaches with the top choices already scooped up. And as a mini-wonder inside a wonder, I wonder if Jason Garrett's future could make it hard for the most sought after assistants to say yes. Would they be willing to come to Dallas with a head coach that will be on the hot seat and possibly in the final year of his deal or go to a more stable job -- and one with less stature -- than the Cowboys?
  • I wonder if Jason Witten will end up with the same cruel fate as Tony Gonzalez. Witten will enter his 12th season with the Cowboys in 2014 and he is already the franchise leader in catches. He is second to Michael Irvin in receiving yards. Gonzalez is the only tight end in NFL history with more catches than Witten. By next season only Gonzalez will have more receiving yards as a tight end than Witten. Shannon Sharpe had 10,060 in his Hall of Fame career. Witten will enter 2014 with 9,799 yards. For all that Gonzalez accomplished he won only one playoff game in his career. That came last year with the Atlanta Falcons. He returned to the Falcons this year thinking he could go out on a Super Bowl run and they finished 4-12. For all that Witten has done, the Cowboys have won one playoff game. It has to be maddening for the eight-time Pro Bowler.
  • I wonder if the Cowboys wanted Tony Romo to have his back surgery sooner rather than later to make sure he is involved in the offseason program. Romo could not take part in the conditioning last year because of a procedure to remove a cyst from his back. If you remember, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Romo was “uniquely running mountains” in California the weeks before training camp to help his conditioning. It was among my favorite quotes of the season. He checked in at 236 pounds, the most he has ever weighed since joining the Cowboys. In 2012, Romo was listed at 230 pounds. In 2011, he was 227. The generally feeling is that Romo will need three months to recover from the back surgery. By having him ready for the conditioning program the Cowboys will be able to monitor Romo much better this spring and make sure he is in better shape when camp starts.
  • I wonder how much of an effect the new contract Robbie Gould signed with the Chicago Bears will impact any discussions the Cowboys have with their kicker, Dan Bailey. Gould signed a four-year deal with the Bears worth up to $15 million and included $9 million guaranteed. Bailey is set to be a restricted free agent. The Cowboys would likely place the second-round tender on him, which will be a little more than $2.1 million. The first-round tender would be close to $3 million. Gould is 31 and has a Pro Bowl to his credit. He has made 86 percent of his kicks in his career. Bailey turns 26 next month and had a Pro Bowl-type season though was not picked. He has made 90.8 percent of his kicks in his first three seasons and has missed two kicks in each of the past two seasons. He has been clutch. He has improved on kickoffs. Jason Garrett said Bailey might be the best at his job than any player the Cowboys have. The Cowboys bought out the free agent year of safety Barry Church last year with an extension and should do that with Bailey.
  • At the midway point of the season the Cowboys really had no idea what to do with Kyle Wilber. Injury forced them to play him at strong-side linebacker and I wonder if they found what could be a long-term answer at the position. In training camp and early in the season he had a number of chances to lay claim to extra playing time with all of the injuries on the defensive line but he was passed by George Selvie, Jarius Wynn and Everette Brown. Once he moved to linebacker, he performed well. He took the job with six games to go and could force Justin Durant out. If the Cowboys make a move on Durant it would save them $1.25 million in salary cap space in 2014. Wilber is set to make $570,000 next season. In a 4-3 scheme, the strong-side backer might be the least important position because of how much nickel defense is used. The nickel corner will play more snaps in a season than a strong-side linebacker with the way the game is played. Wilber performed well, was a good tackler, appeared to fit in well at the spot and was tough. Sometimes in personnel it's better to be lucky than good.

GRAPEVINE, Texas – Jason Witten will welcome second-round tight end Gavin Escobar to the Cowboys, just as the eight-time Pro Bowler did with Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett.

ESPN Insider Ed Werder joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the latest Cowboys news, including Jason Garrett downplaying Tony Romo's involvement in offensive planning and play calling.

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But Witten isn’t anywhere near the point of being ready to pass the baton as the Cowboys’ primary tight end. To the contrary, the 31-year-old Witten considers himself in the middle of his prime after catching a career-high 110 passes last season.

“I felt like last year, once I got past the first couple of games, was probably my best year that I’ve had – not just because of the catches, because of the blocking and all-around,” Witten said between holes at the Cowboys’ golf tournament. “I feel really good. It sounds like we’re going to change our identity a little bit with the two-tight end sets a little more, but I feel good.

“I don’t know that I’d put a timetable on this amount of years, but I do feel that there’s nobody that’s probably more honest with themselves with where I’m at. Physically, I feel good.”

It isn’t hard to find an example of a pass-catching tight end producing deep into his 30s. Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez joined Witten at the Pro Bowl at the tender age of 36 last season.

“You’ve got to be careful to compare yourself with him,” Witten said. “You’re talking about probably the best tight end to ever play, but I do think this is a position where you talk about being in the right spot, position, leverage, awareness. All of those things go into it. If you ever lose a step, like Tony has, you still can be very productive. It’s not so much about that as it is creating those mismatches. That’s something I take a lot of pride in.

“Obviously, I have good chemistry with Tony (Romo) with that. I don’t view (drafting Escobar) as a motion of, ‘Hey, you’re slowing down,’ or ‘There’s only a couple more (years). You’re hanging on.’ The peak is still right there.”

Witten’s humility is swell and all, but there aren’t too many tight ends you can compare him to. His 806 catches and 8,948 yards rank behind only Gonzalez and Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe in NFL history, and Witten should surpass Sharpe in receptions (815) and could catch him in yards (10,060) this season.

Witten hopes he doesn’t have to follow the late-career paths of Gonzalez and Sharpe, who left the franchises that drafted and developed them to play for contenders elsewhere. Witten wants to spend his entire career playing for the Cowboys.

“I couldn’t imagine any other way,” Witten said. “You’re so invested in it. I think you evaluate that as you go, but obviously my loyalty is here. You’re invested here. At this point in my career, everything that motivates me every day is all about, ‘How can I help to bring a trophy here?’ Not only just for the organization, but for the people inside of it. We’ve been through the trenches together. You want to be a part of that.

“I feel that way, but you never say never in any situation. But this is where I want to be and would like to finish out my career right here.”

Tony Romo: The old man and the (NF)C

February, 6, 2013
Jean-Jacques Taylor has run the numbers and figured out that the Dallas Cowboys' Tony Romo will be the second-oldest starting quarterback in the NFC next season, behind only Drew Brees. Yipes.

Now, as we have discussed here many times, 33 is not end-of-the-line old for quarterbacks in the NFL in the year 2013. But it's closer to the end than it is to the beginning, and Jacques' point here is that the infusion of talented and successful young quarterbacks in the NFC is making Romo's path to the Super Bowl even more difficult than it already was. His other point is that Romo needs help:
For Romo to lead the Cowboys to the Super Bowl, Jerry must build a team around Romo the way the Denver Broncos built around John Elway.

When the Broncos won consecutive Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998, they were built around running back Terrell Davis, tight end Shannon Sharpe and receiver Rod Smith. Those guys did the heavy lifting.

A few times each game, the Broncos asked Elway to deliver one of his magical plays -- and he did. Early in his career, the Broncos asked Elway to do all of the heavy lifting and he was still dynamic enough to get Denver to three Super Bowls, which is why he's in the Hall of Fame.

No one is comparing Romo to Elway in terms of talent -- only in terms of what their teams ask each player to do.

Funny, that last part, because sometimes the criticism of Romo does remind me of what people used to say about Elway. In the final two years of his career, Elway went from "good, talented quarterback who couldn't win the big one" to "maybe the best quarterback ever to play the game." He did it by winning two Super Bowls at the helm of a team that could win with its running game.

Jacques is right that Romo needs help. The Cowboys' offensive line has been awful the past two seasons and the run game has been injury-plagued and unreliable. There is no question that Romo and his three interceptions were to blame for this year's season-ending loss in Washington, but he didn't lose all eight of the Cowboys' games single-handedly. There are deeper problems on this Cowboys team than Romo. If he finishes his career there without an Elway-type Super Bowl flourish, he'll go down in history as a Cowboys disappointment. Which is the way it goes with quarterbacks, even when it's not completely fair.

Jason Witten hopes to speak with Ozzie Newsome

October, 12, 2012
IRVING, Texas – Last season Jason Witten surpassed Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome for third place for catches among tight ends in NFL history. This year he moved passed Newsome in receiving yards.

On Sunday in Baltimore, Witten and Newsome will be in the same stadium and Witten hopes to speak in person for the first time with the Ravens general manager.

“Obviously I know what kind of player he was and everybody has told me about him back when he was in college at Alabama,” Witten said. “That probably, in all of these (honors), is the most humbling thing because I think he was probably the biggest staple of a tight end really from that era that we know of. To be able to pass a guy like that, that was probably one of the most special things for me as an individual player.”

Only Tony Gonzalez and Shannon Sharpe have more catches and yards as tight ends in NFL history than Witten, but the Cowboys’ seven-time Pro Bowler believes Newsome deserves credit for how tight ends play today.

“There’s no question really when you think this about this position now really for the last decade or really six or seven years, it’s taken back off,” Witten said. “Obviously Tony Gonzalez has been doing it, but those guys doing it, (Newsome) and (Kellen) Winslow Sr., those guys, really every opportunity we have now is from what they did.”

Jason Witten returns to form

October, 2, 2012
ARLINGTON, Texas -- If there was one positive that came from Monday’s shellacking against Chicago, it was that Jason Witten was Jason Witten again.

Cowboys TE Jason Witten says he is not worried about the offense, but is frustrated with the lack of execution.

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He had five drops in the first three games as he came back from a lacerated spleen, but he caught all 13 passes that were thrown his way against the Bears for 112 yards and a 5-yard touchdown pass with 34 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

“Hey, look I never doubted myself,” Witten said. “A lot of those were tough catches that I expect and we expect me to make. I don’t blink at those. I know what I’m capable of. I know how I feel and play. I was able to get some drives going, but it should be the other way around. It shouldn’t be a surprise. It should be a surprise the way it was (with the drops). You’ve got to stay confident and play better and better.”

Witten’s 13 catches were the third most he has had in a game and the 112 yards marked the 15th time he topped 100 yards in a game. His touchdown was the 42nd of his career, moving him to sixth in team history.

Witten also became the third tight end in NFL history to surpass 8,000 receiving yards in a career. He has 8,097 yards, trailing only Tony Gonzalez and Shannon Sharpe. Witten did it in 147 games, the quickest among the tight ends. Gonzalez did it in 149 games.

Jason Witten won't use injury, hits as excuse

September, 17, 2012
SEATTLE – With four catches Sunday at Seattle, Jason Witten became the second player in Cowboys history to record 700 career receptions and the third tight end to do so in league history.

Not that he’ll look back at the game fondly.

Witten had three drops in the 27-7 loss to the Seahawks, but he would not use two big hits or the spleen injury that kept him out of action for three weeks earlier in the summer as excuses.

“I just didn’t catch the ball,” Witten said. “Opportunities were there, just didn’t do it. That had nothing to do with it.”

Witten caught four passes for 58 yards, giving him 702 receptions for his career. Michael Irvin is the franchise leader with 750. The only other tight ends with more than 700 catches are Tony Gonzalez (1,149) and Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe (815).

Witten reached 700 catches in 145 games, the quickest among tight ends. It took Gonzalez 154 games to reach 700.

“He’s battling back obviously from the spleen issue, so he hasn’t been able to practice and be as normal over the past few weeks as he has been through most of his career,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Those things happen. He’s human too. We’ll make sure we correct that going forward. I know he’ll be focusing on that.”

Ozzie Newsome salutes Jason Witten

November, 13, 2011
ARLINGTON, Texas -- With a 5-yard catch in the first quarter, Jason Witten surpassed Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome for third place in NFL history for catches by a tight end.

The catch came on a third-and-3 on a quick curl from Tony Romo to pick up a first down on the Cowboys’ second drive.

Witten now has 662 catches. Newsome had the most ever by a tight end at the time of his retirement with 661.

“Jason is a complete tight end with the ability to block at the point of attack and make plays downfield with his catches,” said Newsome, who is Baltimore’s general manager, in a statement from the Ravens. “He has a way to get open that few tight ends possess. He’ll find the spots in zones, he can run away from man coverage and he can catch a ball in heavy traffic. Congratulations to him on reaching another catching milestone.”

Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez is the leader with 1,108 entering today’s game, followed by Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe, who had 815 in his career with Denver and Baltimore.

Only Michael Irvin has more catches with the Cowboys than Witten. He had 750 receptions in his Hall of Fame career from 1988-99.

Jason Witten closing on Ozzie Newsome

November, 8, 2011
IRVING, Texas -- With two catches Sunday against Buffalo, Jason Witten will pass Ozzie Newsome for third place among tight ends for receptions all-time.

Newsome had 662 receptions in his Hall of Fame career. Witten has 661 after his four-catch, 71-yard outing against Seattle on Sunday. Only Tony Gonzalez, a sure Hall of Famer once he decides to retire, and Shannon Sharpe, who was inducted this summer into the Hall of Fame, would be ahead of Witten.

Gonzalez has 1,108 catches and Sharpe has 815.

“I said a while back it’s kind of surreal to think about passing a guy like that,” Witten said. “Until Tony came along he was the greatest tight end. He and John Mackey were the staples of what this position is all about. It will be special to be able to do that, but at the same time, you’re so intent on winning games that you don’t have time to look back at it. But it will be surreal for me. When I came into this league, I never thought about something like that. I just thought about getting better and better and better, so that’s been my mentality. You spend time in the film room to find five or six things I can work on to get better. If you keep that approach, good things will happen.”

Witten turns 30 next March and signed a contract extension through 2017 before the season started. He is on pace for 88 catches and 1,096 yards this season.

Does he have a chance to catch Gonzalez or is he putting the record so far out of reach?