Jerry Rice played into his 40s in the NFL, becoming an all-time great over 20 years.
Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten is going into his 15th season and is looking to extend what many believe to be a Hall of Fame career.
Witten, 35, spoke with Rice this offseason at the Kentucky Derby about ways to maintain his level of play as he ages. Rice, the NFL’s all-time leading receiver 1,549 receptions, always preached being “lean.”
So staying “lean” is something Witten focused on this offseason.
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“It’s something that we’ve tried to do with our plan,” Witten said. “Our game’s not about speed as a tight end. Your game is about leverage and attacking coverage and so it works hand in hand. He gave me a lot of nice nuggets when I spent a few hours with him at the Kentucky Derby.
“That was really neat to me. To think that guy played 20-something years as a starting receiver in the National Football League, that’s remarkable. I appreciate what he said.”
Witten and Rice are two of only 15 players in NFL history to record 1,000 catches in their career. Witten appreciated that Rice gave him a ‘Welcome to the Club’ when he joined the exclusive fraternity in 2015.
Witten is now hoping to have similar success to Rice as he enters the final stages of his career. Rice posted 1,000-yard receiving seasons with the Oakland Raiders at ages 39 and 40 in 2001-02.
Witten has had at least 60 receptions and 650 receiving yards in each of the past 13 seasons. He’d like to at least maintain those numbers, if not improve on them.
Nobody in the Cowboys organization would bet against him, of course.
“He’s just a special guy,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Obviously one of the best players and one of the best people I’ve ever been around in my life. He’s such a great example for the rest of our team. The way he comes to work every day, his passion for the game, his love for the game, his love for this team, his willingness to work at it and the sacrifice he makes beyond just the production that he has.
“He’s just a really good football player and has been for a long time. He’s the most complete tight end in football. We ask him to do a lot of different things and he’s able to execute it. He gets better and better believe it or not. His scores in our offseason program continue to get better. He’s just something else. I haven’t been around many guys like him throughout my life. He certainly inspires me every day.”