Cowboys position review: Tight ends

Reporter Todd Archer breaks down the Dallas Cowboys, position by position, analyzing what the players did in 2014, what they can do in the future and what the team can do to improve the position in 2015.

Position: Tight end

Under contract: Jason Witten, James Hanna, Gavin Escobar

A look back: At some point you would think Jason Witten will slow down. He turns 33 in May but he is looking like another Tony Gonzalez, a player who can go at a high level well past what is reasonable.

Do not look at Witten's numbers as a true sign of how well he played in 2014. His 64 catches were his fewest in a season since 2006. The 703 yards were the fewest since his rookie season. He scored five touchdowns. Witten's blocking is what separated him from just about every other tight end in the NFL. He doesn't come off the field. In the Cowboys' zone game, the tight end is responsible for setting the edge and Witten did a great job of that.

So did Hanna, whose play was vastly underappreciated. He came to the Cowboys with the reputation as a pass catcher but has developed into a decent blocker. He caught four passes for 48 yards. His toughness is also unnoticed. He played the final few games with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee.

Escobar had four touchdown catches but caught just nine passes for 105 yards on the season. His blocking improved but he was not able to keep Hanna off the field. Rarely did he have his hand on the ground as the true tight end during the season.

A look ahead: Witten's production increased in the final month of the regular season and playoffs, almost as if the Cowboys went back to the script that had him catching 80-90 passes a season. He is remarkably durable and he consistently wins the offseason awards for the way he trains.

He is probably more fluid now than he was five years ago. Again, maybe there will come a time where he slows down, but it doesn't look like it'll happen in 2015 with the way he played in 2014.

Hanna is going into the final year of his contract. Like any tight end, it's difficult to play behind Witten because the options are so limited. Hanna fills a vital role because of how much the Cowboys use two-tight end personnel.

It's not Escobar's fault he was picked in the second round in 2013. The Cowboys need more value out of a pick that high but Escobar looks more like a situational player than an every-down player. Again, that's not his fault. It's almost a product of the Cowboys' system. Tony Romo trusts him more, but there will only be so many chances with Dez Bryant, Witten, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams and possibly DeMarco Murray around.

A look out: The Cowboys will need another tight end at some point in the offseason just out of numbers. They could conceivably carry a fourth tight end on the 53-man roster, but that would likely be at the expense of a fullback.

It will be hard to attract any significant free agents to Dallas because the depth chart appears set. Because Hanna will be a free agent after the season, looking late in the draft or at a priority undrafted free agent might make sense. But that tight end has to be able to do a lot of everything -- not just be a pass catcher or just a blocker.

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