Dallas Cowboys: Can Jason Witten be the mentor they need him to be?

Jason Witten #82 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Jason Witten #82 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

Jason Witten is returning to the Dallas Cowboys and will likely reclaim his role as TE1 but can he also be an effective mentor to the young guys?

The Dallas Cowboys entered this offseason with a need at tight end so it should be no surprise they addressed it early. Clearly the way they addressed the position is the surprising part of this whole thing. Instead of going after a free agent like Jared Cook or Tyler Eifert, or leaning on the unusually deep draft class, Dallas chose to unretire the incomparable Jason Witten.

But what kind of value does the 36-year-old Jason Witten have? And will his short-term assistance hurt the franchise in the long-term?

Yesterday afternoon, Sport DFW writer Adithya Prabakaran tackled many of the issues surrounding Witten’s return. If you haven’t read it yet, be sure to catch up here:

Must Read. Jason Witten's impact in 2019. light

Today I want to focus on one of Jason Witten’s most under-discussed and concerning criticisms – his willingness to mentor.

Can Jason Witten be a mentor?

We know Witt is a great leader. He know he’s the consummate professional. But do we know how willing he is to mentor and coach young talent behind him on the depth chart?

Considering the track record of every tight end who’s ever worked behind Witten, it’s tough to make a case that Witt did much of anything to help them.

Because if he is willing and able, all evidence appears to be pointing towards the contrary. Look at who the Dallas Cowboys have tried to develop behind Witten over the past few years: Anthony Fasano, Martellus Bennett, and Gavin Escobar are all players Dallas invested premium draft picks in (all second rounders) and all of them failed to meet the expectations of a TE2 in Dallas’ 12 personnel-heavy offense.

Perhaps more indicting is the way Fasano and Bennett thrived once they left Dallas. In Fasano’s two seasons in Dallas he never collected more than 14 receptions or 143 yards receiving. Yet, when he left he more than doubled his numbers in virtually every part of his game.

Martellus Bennett followed a similar path. In his four years in Dallas, he only averaged 1.4 receptions per game and 10 yards receiving per game. He exploded once he left Dallas, even earning a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2014 when he collected over 900 yards receiving.

By itself this may not mean much. I mean, numbers are expected to go up when a player moves from TE2 to TE1, after all. But Dallas drafted these players high with the intention of re-signing them and making them key parts of their 2-tight end offense. The fact that Dallas gave up on them, yet continued to select tight ends high in the draft, says Dallas thought the problem was the player, not the TE2 role.

Then there was this comment by Martellus Bennett a couple years ago:

"Witten didn’t talk to me when I was in Dallas. He didn’t help me. Very rarely did we talk. I hated him. I hated Witten."

Now Marty-B is a notorious malcontent and the Bennett Brothers are widely regarded as certifiably (fill in the blank), but his words make a little more sense than any of us cared to admit at the time. It wouldn’t be the first time a star player with unquestionable character wasn’t exactly eager to groom a guy who could eventually replace him.

Considering the track record of every tight end who’s ever worked behind Witten, it’s tough to make a case that Witt did much of anything to help them. In fact, it looks more like the opposite happened.

Now this should also fall on the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff. They clearly didn’t do enough to develop tight ends to play that No. 2 role either. It’s embarrassing how they let players go who they thought were busts, only to be proven wrong a couple months later when that player instantly becomes the TE2 they’ve been searching for.

Why this year may be different

Assuming the above speculation is true, this year does have a chance to be different. Witten is playing in what is likely his final season. And with his TV career potential a serious question, coaching may be his target career step.

If coaching is his next goal, this is the season for him to prove his worth and show the Dallas Cowboys how he can mentor young promising players like Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin. The motivation has simply changed.

Some may see this take as slander on one of the Dallas Cowboys’ most legendary players, but I assure you it isn’t. Jason Witten is a competitor of all competitor and that often entails competing against teammates. Keep in  mind, Michael Jordan was never considered a good mentor either.

Next. Top-10 safeties in the draft and their fit on the Cowboys. dark

If Jason Witten was brought back with the hope of helping players develop behind him, it’s asking him to do something he’s never successfully done before. But the circumstances surrounding his situation this year indicate things could change this time – let’s just not pretend mentorship is a foregone conclusion.

  • Published on 03/01/2019 at 12:00 PM
  • Last updated at 03/01/2019 at 11:27 AM