Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

03 May 2018

Jason Witten Retires

As has been rumored for the past week, Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten has retired. He will immediately join the Monday Night Football crew.

I'm just going to copy-and-paste Witten's achievements from Kevin Patra's story on NFL.com:

Witten ends his career as one of the best tight ends in NFL history, totaling 1,152 catches for 12,448 yards and 68 touchdowns. Witten walks away ranked fourth all-time in receptions, behind only Jerry Rice (1,549), Tony Gonzalez (1,325) and Larry Fitzgerald (1,234).

An 11-time Pro Bowler, Witten holds several NFL records, including most receptions in a single season by a tight end (110 in 2012) and most catches in a game by a tight end (18 in 2012). The sure-handed Witten also owns a cornucopia of team records, including most career receptions, most career receiving yards and most consecutive seasons with a reception, among others. Witten's 68 career receiving touchdowns ranks third in Cowboys history and fifth all-time among tight ends in NFL history.

Witten was a third-round draft pick out of Tennessee in 2003. Starting in 2004, he ranked among the top five tight ends in DYAR ten times in the next 11 years before falling to 24th, 29th, and 20th the last three seasons. Since 1989, he has 2,072 receiving DYAR, fourth behind Tony Gonzalez (3,250), Antonio Gates (2,662), and Shannon Sharpe (2,090). (Rob Gronkowski is fifth with 2,023 and will likely pass Witten this season.) Of the 47 tight ends with at least 400 targets in that timeframe, Witten ranks ninth with an average DVOA (weighted by the number of targets each season) of 12.4%.

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 03 May 2018

12 comments, Last at 06 May 2018, 3:00am by Dan

Comments

1
by theslothook :: Thu, 05/03/2018 - 6:14pm

He's definitely a hall of famer. Curious where he'd rank all time as a tight end.

Definitely behind Gronk, Gonzo, and Gates. Probably somewhere in the Shannon Sharpe tier.

2
by MC2 :: Thu, 05/03/2018 - 7:58pm

I would put Witten and Sharpe ahead of Gates. Gates obviously has great stats, but he's also played in an era conducive to great receiving stats, he's been blessed with HOF-caliber QB play for his entire career, and he's never been much of a blocker.

Some other guys to consider are the old timers, like Casper, Ditka, and Mackey, as well as somewhat more recent guys, like Newsome and Winslow (although Winslow falls prey to many of the same arguments I made against Gates).

3
by Richie :: Thu, 05/03/2018 - 8:24pm

Witten played in the same era as Gates and also played much of his career with HOF-caliber QB play.

Gates has better numbers, but not sure why you would discount them compared to Witten.

Gates caught touchdowns nearly twice as frequently as Witten. That's a pretty big difference.

4
by MC2 :: Thu, 05/03/2018 - 9:09pm

There's actually a big difference in quality of QB play, due to Romo's injuries.

Gates and Witten both came in in 2003. From 2003-2017, the following QBs started games for the Chargers:

Philip Rivers - 192
Drew Brees - 42
Doug Flutie - 6

From 2003-2017, the following QBs started games for the Cowboys:

Tony Romo - 127
Dak Prescott - 32
Drew Bledsoe - 22
Quincy Carter - 16
Vinny Testaverde - 15
Jon Kitna - 9
Matt Cassel - 7
Brandon Weeden - 4
Brad Johnson - 3
Kellen Moore - 2
Drew Henson - 1
Stephen McGee - 1
Kyle Orton - 1

So, if Rivers, Brees, and Romo are the HOF-caliber guys, that's over 95% for Gates, and barely over 50% for Witten.

Plus, Witten was widely considered to be one of the best blocking TEs, while Gates was considered to be one of the worst (although, to be fair, the Chargers often had very good running games, so perhaps Gates was a little better blocker than he got credit for being).

6
by theslothook :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 12:32pm

Gates was also the main offensive focal point of his offense the way grink and Gonzo were. Witten, while at times might have been, usually was a compliment to TO, Miles Austin, and Dez Bryant.

7
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 2:14pm

He was targeted a touch less than TO (a HOF WR), but more than Austin or Bryant.

Gates was targeted more often than Floyd, about the same as Jackson, but less often than the Keenans -- McCardell and Allen. It's not that SD lacked solid #1 WRs, it's that they didn't last long.

Gronk was targeted a touch more often than Hernandez (although it's close), at about the same rate as the Brandons (Cooks, Lloyd, and LaFell), and much less often than Welker (about 3 targets per game less).

Gonzalez in KC was targeted about as often as Rison, Bowe, and Alexander. In Atlanta, less than White or Jones, but more than Douglas.

Both KC and SD were very run-focused, KC especially.

I wouldn't have expected it, but his offensive workload and his work environment compare favorably with Gates, Gonzales, and Gronk.

12
by Dan :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 3:00am

I don't think the gap between Rivers & Romo is that big, and I'd rank San Diego Brees behind either of them. Witten had 9 straight years of Romo (for 123/144 games), in 2006-2014 which was when both players were basically in their prime. That's plenty of time to see what he could do as a receiver in a very good situation. It wasn't as good as Gates's 8 year peak (2004-2011).

5
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 8:35am

So did Gonzalez, Gates, and Gronk.

469 of Gronk's 474 receptions are from Brady.

Of Gonzalez's 1325 receptions, 1 came from a HOFer (Moon). 436 were from guys with some hope of making the hall (Gannon, Ryan).

Gates has been covered. 915 of 928 receptions are from Hall guys (Brees, Rivers, Tomlinson).

Witten's profile looks more like Gonzalez's. Lots of good QBs; few great ones.

8
by ChrisS :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 2:46pm

Will he be Romo-esque and the make the MNF broadcast "listenable"? Getting rid of Gruden was a positive step. I found McDonough fairly inoffensive, so I am not sure if getting rid of him is good or bad. It depends on his replacement, and I know nothing about his replacement Tessitore

9
by LondonMonarch :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 7:39am

I hate the Cowboys, but think Witten is fantastic- classy player and guy.

For me his HoF chances probably depend on how the current generation of TEs do.

He is unfortunate to be part of a great generation of TEs (the 3 Gs) and probably behind all 3 for the HoF. If the current generation of TEs produces some similar players, then I fear he would get stuck in the Hall-of-Very-Good with the rationale that the TE position has changed, you expect much bigger numbers etc -- a Derrick Mason or Keenan McCardell.

On the other hand, if the new generation don't do so well, his achievements will look more special.

He might be OK. Greg Olsen won't catch him. Jimmy Graham is halfway to Witten's career, but seems unlikely to be this good for the next 7 years. Travis Kelce, Jordan Reed etc don't look like HoF type players.

11
by theslothook :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 1:50pm

Of the current crop you're mentioning, I think Kelsey absolutely is playing like a Hall of Fame tight end. Graham also had that trajectory. To me, Graham and Kelsey at their peaks are better players than Witten, but Witten was consistently good for so long that I think that's Hall of Fame worthy in itself

10
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 8:23am

Not followed Witten but just looking at his stats I note that he's started something 230 consecutive games and played 240. That in itself is impressive to stay injury free.

Wondering how much he benefitted from joining the Cowboys under Parcells. Notably Terence Newman who was also drafted in 2003 was still playing last year. Good coaching and organisation has a lot more to do with drafting success than it's credited.