Jason Witten's Successor Must Be Found Quickly by the Dallas Cowboys

David BarbourContributor IIIJanuary 11, 2013

Dallas Cowboys TE Jason Witten did not provide much value to his quarterbacks in 2012.
Dallas Cowboys TE Jason Witten did not provide much value to his quarterbacks in 2012.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

In light of the fact that Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones recently fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, it looks as if Jones is intent on keeping his promise that changes will be made in the organization.

While the firing of Ryan is understandable given the decline of the Cowboys defense from 2011 to 2012, Jones might fall under the trap of thinking that he can even identify all of the problems facing the franchise.

Although Jones might believe that the position of tight end—currently manned by prolific pass-catching Jason Witten—does not need to be tinkered with, the truth is that it is time for the Cowboys to find Witten's replacement and successor.

Witten's play over the past few seasons demonstrates that he—despite his productive career—is not nearly the big-play receiving threat he used to be.

Sure, Witten caught 110 passes during the regular season, his first 100-catch season of his career and the fifth-highest catch total in the NFL, but all receptions are not created equal.

Witten's catches were definitely lacking in value on a per-play basis.

At the same time he was catching all those passes, Witten was responsible for only gaining 9.4 yards per reception, which is a career-low average for him.

The No. 1 goal of a receiving target should be to make his quarterback better by gaining yards after the catch. Witten failed to do this, which is why the Cowboys should no longer feel secure that he is the best tight end for the offense.

When Witten's pass target and receiving statistics for 2012 (provided courtesy of NFL.com) were removed from Cowboys quarterbacks' passing statistics, the quarterbacks experienced the following:

  • 3.8 percent decrease in completion percentage (from 66.0 to 63.5)
  • 2.6 percent increase in yards per pass attempt (from 7.6 to 7.8)
  • 1.4 percent increase in adjusted yards per pass attempt (from 7.2 to 7.3)
  • 6.1 percent increase in yards per completion (from 11.5 to 12.2)
  • 15.9 percent increase in touchdown percentage (from 4.4 to 5.1)
  • 13.8 percent increase in interception percentage (from 2.9 to 3.3)

Overall, the passing offense was better off when the ball was not being thrown in Witten's direction, even if he did provide some value to the rate at which passes were completed.

Had this season been an anomaly for Witten, one could easily overlook it, but this is the second straight season Cowboys quarterbacks have not benefited from having Witten as a receiving target.

Considering that Witten will be 31 entering the 2013 season, it is likely that Witten's value to his quarterbacks will continue to diminish and his quarterbacks will continue to get a limited return on the investment of throwing to him.

The Cowboys can continue to act like Witten's production is fine and that the tight end question has already been answered, or they can acquire a tight end who can provide the per-play value Witten currently lacks.

My advice to the Cowboys is to do the latter and include tight end as one of the areas where the franchise needs some adjusting. Quarterback Tony Romo's statistics will certainly thank them for it.