Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten is the textbook definition of an NFL ironman. The man simply redefines the word “tough.” He’s played through tons of injuries (that list includes a concussion) and never missed a beat. Heck, Witten even ran 30 yards after catching a pass without a helmet one time.
He’s simply the Cowboys’ No. 1 guy, but Witten has missed nearly the entire preseason with a lacerated spleen and he needs to sit during Dallas’ regular season opener against the New York Giants Wednesday night.
“If I get cleared, we’re playing,” Witten said. “It’s the only way, I believe, you can approach the game. I think people know that’s the only way I’m playing. This is what you play for.”
Witten didn’t have to say those words and every Cowboys fan from Arlington to Timbuktu would have just assumed as much from the seven-time Pro Bowler. This isn’t heroic for Witten – this is normal.
However, it’s in Witten and the team’s best interest that he sit on Wednesday night when the Cowboys take on the defending champs in primetime at MetLife Stadium in the kickoff game to the 2012 NFL season. It’s a huge stage and the Cowboys haven’t exactly performed well on it lately, but it’s still better that Witten sit one more week.
Remember: he said if he’s cleared. If he’s cleared, Witten should then get another week to get back into the groove of things and make sure that spleen is completely healed because unlike a sprained ankle or a bruised thigh, a lacerated spleen isn’t something an ironman can just grit his teeth and play through. Witten’s desire and determination to play regardless is certainly admirable, but Dallas doesn’t need that from him. He’s statistically the third-greatest tight end in league history; Witten doesn’t have anything left to prove.
What he can do is help the team win down the stretch while 100 percent healthy. In the meantime, Dallas has two young up-and-coming studs that can definitely fill-in for the future Hall of Famer against the Giants.
John Phillips, also known as Witten, Jr., is just that – the next coming of No. 82. Phillips is a superb route-runner, a phenomenal pass-catcher and a solid blocker. He’s made some incredible catches this preseason and he’s proven that he can be a security blanket for Tony Romo during Witten’s absence.
Sixth-round draft pick James Hanna has also made his mark this preseason by providing some very athletic plays while catching the football and surprising everyone at Valley Ranch with his run-blocking ability. Phillips and Hanna together can definitely fill in for Witten for one game.
Sure, the Cowboys are hurting in the passing game; Witten and starting receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant all missed the majority of the preseason with injuries, but bringing any of them back too early will only hurt them and the team in the long run.
Witten should sit in Week 1 regardless of his medical clearance. Since the game is on a Wednesday, the Cowboys will then have 11 days for him to prepare for Week 2. Dallas needs Witten more in Weeks 2-17 than just in Week 1 and the risk is way too high for not nearly as much reward. It just makes sense.