Mac Engel

Witten’s return to Cowboys works so long as you temper expectations for 37-year-old

‘He was confident, he was calm, but that’s Dak. Always has been.’ Travis Frederick on Dak’s Day

Dallas Cowboys captain and center Travis Frederick said Dak Prescott was as calm and confident as he's ever been during Sunday's 35-17 win over the New York Giants.
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Dallas Cowboys captain and center Travis Frederick said Dak Prescott was as calm and confident as he's ever been during Sunday's 35-17 win over the New York Giants.

Before Sunday, the last time Jason Witten played a football game was in Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve 2017, after which he ensured us he was coming back for an additional season.

True to his word, Witten did come back for that additional season. Granted, there was this sabbatical to the ESPN broadcast booth but ... why fight over commas, periods and other unimportant grammar?

Jason Witten did return.

His return to the Dallas Cowboys was triumphant, as he scored a touchdown in the team’s 35-17 win over the New York Giants at Jerry’s Club.

It was his 69th career NFL touchdown.

“It felt good,” Witten said. “It felt good to be back out there. When I made the decision to come back, this is the moment I was thinking of. Games like this. I said it a long time ago, you just want to have some role with the team.”

Witten’s arrival needs an asterisk, or some sort of disclaimer. We were warned that this would not be the same Jason Witten who retired a few months after the 2017 NFL season. Now we’ve seen it.

This Jason Witten looks like an old vet who is squeezing out one more year. As long as everyone is cool with that, and keeps expectations reasonable for a 37-year-old man, this will work out for the team, himself, the quarterback, the coach, the owner and the fans.

The last thing any team wants from an older player is to be in the way of progress; that’s a cute way of saying, keep the vet around provided the young guy behind him has room to play and develop.

It’s a stretch to say the Cowboys have a tight end or two they are developing for a long run. They have a three-headed TE of Witten, Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz.

Jarwin abused the New York Giants again, because that’s what he does.

In his career, Jarwin has 10 receptions for 158 yards and four touchdowns against the Giants. Against the rest of the league, he has 18 catches for 153 yards and no scores.

But Jarwin is like many players these days; they look good against the Giants.

“It’s almost like it’s working out perfectly the way we designed it,” Witten said. “No ego on my end, and certainly not on the other two tight ends, of who is in or who is getting that play. It’s what it is; just do it together.”

Against the Giants, Witten caught three passes from Dak Prescott for 15 yards. Witten’s longest gain was 6 yards.

That could be the norm.

In 2017, the yardage continually kept getting shorter. He could always get open, but it was doing something after he caught it that began to be the issue.

That season, his 8.9 yards per reception was the lowest of his 15-year NFL career. If he matches that figure this season, it is a success.

No one should expect 100 catches, or any fantasy numbers, from Witten. He’s now a blocker, a pro, and an adult who will catch the short stuff.

He has a role on this team, and it’s not as big as it once was, nor should it be. The team has younger players who have taken over the locker room that he once ran.

It will work, provided the expectations are moderate and realistic for a 37-year-old guy who is back squeezing out one more year.

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Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.
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