But Witten isn’t anywhere near the point of being ready to pass the baton as the Cowboys’ primary tight end. To the contrary, the 31-year-old Witten considers himself in the middle of his prime after catching a career-high 110 passes last season.
“I felt like last year, once I got past the first couple of games, was probably my best year that I’ve had – not just because of the catches, because of the blocking and all-around,” Witten said between holes at the Cowboys’ golf tournament. “I feel really good. It sounds like we’re going to change our identity a little bit with the two-tight end sets a little more, but I feel good.
“I don’t know that I’d put a timetable on this amount of years, but I do feel that there’s nobody that’s probably more honest with themselves with where I’m at. Physically, I feel good.”
It isn’t hard to find an example of a pass-catching tight end producing deep into his 30s. Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez joined Witten at the Pro Bowl at the tender age of 36 last season.
“You’ve got to be careful to compare yourself with him,” Witten said. “You’re talking about probably the best tight end to ever play, but I do think this is a position where you talk about being in the right spot, position, leverage, awareness. All of those things go into it. If you ever lose a step, like Tony has, you still can be very productive. It’s not so much about that as it is creating those mismatches. That’s something I take a lot of pride in.
“Obviously, I have good chemistry with Tony (Romo) with that. I don’t view (drafting Escobar) as a motion of, ‘Hey, you’re slowing down,’ or ‘There’s only a couple more (years). You’re hanging on.’ The peak is still right there.”
Witten’s humility is swell and all, but there aren’t too many tight ends you can compare him to. His 806 catches and 8,948 yards rank behind only Gonzalez and Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe in NFL history, and Witten should surpass Sharpe in receptions (815) and could catch him in yards (10,060) this season.
Witten hopes he doesn’t have to follow the late-career paths of Gonzalez and Sharpe, who left the franchises that drafted and developed them to play for contenders elsewhere. Witten wants to spend his entire career playing for the Cowboys.
“I couldn’t imagine any other way,” Witten said. “You’re so invested in it. I think you evaluate that as you go, but obviously my loyalty is here. You’re invested here. At this point in my career, everything that motivates me every day is all about, ‘How can I help to bring a trophy here?’ Not only just for the organization, but for the people inside of it. We’ve been through the trenches together. You want to be a part of that.
“I feel that way, but you never say never in any situation. But this is where I want to be and would like to finish out my career right here.”