Locked Up Tight

Just before the start of training camp, the Cowboys were staring down the triple barrel of resigning some serious veteran talent. Contract extensions were awaiting Roy Williams and Bradie James, and Jason Witten.

Of the talented threesome, the Cowboys could ill afford to enter the 2006 campaign without extending their two-time Pro Bowl tight end. If they started the season without a renewed commitment, Witten's Agent could have easily instituted a communications barrier until season's end.

Prudent business practices would have commanded it.

The Jones family is comprised of brilliant minds, and they fully realized what they were up against had Witten played out the entire season without an extension. He, after two straight 65+ catch seasons and Pro Bowl appearances, already guaranteed himself a top five tight end contract. So, worse case scenario, the Cowboys could have protected themselves financially by simply placing the franchise tag on their tight end. If Witten were to construct another Pro Bowl season in 2006, look out market value and contract demand. The top five order can be argued vehemently, but Witten sits at No. 3 overall behind Kansas City's Tony Gonzales and San Diego's Antonio Gates.

Baltimore's Todd Heap just re-upped on his deal, and Witten was almost certain to perform well enough to command "break the bank" money. Witten's potential and upside exceeds that of Heap's, and the Jones family struck at the most opportune time. When it comes to business, the Jones family is well aware of when to roll the dice and when to stay put (insert Roy Williams here).

Cowboys' fans would be hard pressed to find a better "value" pick in the last five organizational Drafts. The last two years have netted some noteworthy collegiate talent, but please find a better third round selection than Jason Witten. Had you told the Cowboys he would be productive enough to attend two Pro Bowls in three years, the Draft position could have been much higher. The kid can flat out play, and barring any injury setbacks, he's destined for many great years ahead.

Receiving Pro Bowl honors last year was most impressive. With the offensive line at full strength, Witten was allowed to roam the middle of the field and find the seams in opposing defenses. He's a tremendous mismatch for most linebackers. Yet, when Pro Bowl left tackle Flozell Adams went down for the year with a knee injury, Witten was called upon to stay home and block. This reduced his opportunity to pad the receiving stats, but you never heard a word from the consummate professional. Witten is a team guy in the purest form. Reserved in every sense, he is highly effective on the field of play.

Like the quarterback pursuit from Aikman's retirement to Bledsoe's arrival, there were many swing and misses along the way. The same scenario applies to the time frame between Jay Novacek and Jason Witten. The most notable whiff being the first round selection of David LaFluer.

It's good Troy found his calling after the cleats were permanently retired as talent evaluation left much to be desired. Most will remember Aikman accompanying Scouting personnel to personally work out LaFluer on the LSU campus. Aikman essentially endorsed the guy on the spot, and the Cowboys responded by moving up several slots to secure the Baton Rouge product. As they say, the rest is history. A chronic lower back problem left the Cowboys and LaFluer's NFL career high and dry.

Several followed, but none possessed the complete package that Witten brought. In a Ranch Report interview with University of Tennessee Defensive Coordinator John Chavis following the Cowboys 2005 selection of Kevin Burnett, Coach Chavis could not escape without commentary on Witten. "The Cowboys got themselves a good one there. Jason is a quality individual through and through, and I've seen his abilities every day in practice for several years. He's a long way from hitting his peak. No one quite realizes the size/speed combination he brings to the table. He's a match-up nightmare."

Chavis' words rang so true during last year's home contest against the Chiefs. In what may have been Drew Bledsoe's finest throw of the year, and potentially one of his career bests, it was Witten's abilities that made the throw possible. It's worth a recall of the VCR tape or TiVo just to take it in an additional time. Witten's 26-yard TD reception was a thing of beauty. The term "thread the needle" has never been more prevalent. While the ball was perfectly placed, it still took flypaper hands and tremendous concentration to pluck it while clearing the safety's helmet by mere inches. Especially with the route being an inside look. The pattern went against all odds, yet the Bledsoe/Witten combination provided flawless execution.

It's Bledsoe's high praises of Witten that paint the entire picture. Upon his Dallas arrival, he knew right away where his bread was to be buttered, and #82 would provide the ultimate safety net. Bledsoe had to know the long-term effect of Flozell's departure. It limited a major cog in the passing game, and Bledsoe's stats diminished down the stretch.

The all-time favorite Witten exchange didn't even happen in a game situation. It was his steam rolling of Bill Parcells during a Valley Ranch practice session that reigned most memorable. Probably more than a bit shocked to find the new head coach in his direct path; he had to anticipate the worst of Tuna reactions. While nothing was said, and no warrants issued, Parcells knew the kid had the moxie necessary to make a huge impact on the NFL landscape. He hasn't disappointed his boss or the masses. Steam rolling a Tuna was just a sign of things to come.

The Jones family was blessed to have reached a contract extension prior to the start of training camp. With the potential "fire power" on display in 2006, the sky is the limit for Witten and new running mate Anthony Fasano. Terrell Owens' presence alone changes the entire way an opponent can defense the Cowboys. The backs will see rare, if any, eight men in the box. Terry Glenn pulls single coverage while countering with his breakaway speed. Linebackers all over the League are dreading the task of matching up with the two-pronged weapon of Witten and Fasano. All being predicated on the offensive line's ability to keep out would-be pursuers, Bledsoe provided with time and being clutter free is an explosive recipe for success.

Jason Witten was ready to write his own check. A stellar 2006 campaign would have upped the ante considerably. However, the pre-camp decision by both sides guaranteed this year, and several to follow, would be smooth sailing for Witten and the Cowboys organization.

Well done. Well done, indeed.

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