Before Jason Witten's retirement, Cowboys had tight end need

FRISCO, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' need for a tight end increases with the impending retirement of Jason Witten, but the position already was among the team’s bigger needs.

In the past two weeks, the Cowboys have seen their top two tight ends, Witten and James Hanna, end their careers. Witten is set to become a Monday Night Football analyst, according to sources. Hanna was placed on the reserve/retired list because of an arthritic knee condition.

Even if Witten and Hanna had continued to play in 2018, the Cowboys would have had a need. Witten was in year-to-year mode after 15 seasons with the franchise. Hanna and Geoff Swaim were set to become unrestricted free agents after the season. The Cowboys also have Blake Jarwin and Rico Gathers on the roster.

Swaim’s nine receptions represent the entire output of the trio. Witten had 19 games in his career with at least nine catches, including a record 18-catch, 167-yard effort against the New York Giants on Oct. 28, 2012. The 18 catches are the most ever by a tight end and tied for third most in a game overall.

The Cowboys did not have a tight end in for a visit to The Star before the draft, but they worked out a number of them during the draft process with new position coach Doug Nussmeier.

Hayden Hurst was the only tight end to be picked in the first round on Thursday, going to the Baltimore Ravens with the 25th overall pick.

The Cowboys have the 50th and 81st picks in the second and third rounds on Friday.

Among the tight ends still available are South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert, Penn State’s Mike Gesicki, Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews and Indiana’s Ian Thomas.

With Witten on the roster, the Cowboys drafted three tight ends in the second round over the years: Anthony Fasano in 2006, Martellus Bennett in 2008 and Gavin Escobar in 2013.

None was able to make much of an impact given Witten’s presence and ability.

Now the Cowboys might have to take a tight end in the second round.