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 fully intent on keeping his promise that changes will be made in the Cowboys organization. While the firing of Ryan is certainly understandable given the decline the Cowboys defense experienced from the 2011 season to the 2012 one, Jones might fall under the trap of thinking that he can even correctly identify all the problems the Cowboys franchise currently faces.
Although Jones might be under the impression that tight end, currently manned by prolific pass-catching Jason Witten, is not a position that he needs any sort of tinkering with, the truth is that it is definitely time for the Cowboys to be thinking of Witten's replacement and successor. Witten's play over the past few seasons clearly demonstrates that Witten, for all of his production over the years, is not nearly the big-play receiving threat he has been in the past.
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 definitely not created equal, and Witten's catches were definitely lacking in value on a per-play basis. At the same time he was catching all those many passes, Witten was responsible for only gaining 9.4 yards per reception, which is a career-low average for him.
The number one goal of a receiving target should be to make his quarterback better when throwing in his direction. Accomplishing this task is where Witten failed this season and is the reason why the Cowboys should no longer feel secure that Witten 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 a 3.8 percent decrease in completion percentage (from 66.0 percent to 63.5 percent), a 2.6 percent increase in yards per pass attempt (from 7.6 to 7.8), a 1.4 percent increase in adjusted yards per pass attempt (from 7.2 to 7.3), a 6.1 percent increase in yards per completion (from 11.5 to 12.2), a 15.9 percent increase in touchdown percentage (from 4.4 percent to 5.1 percent), and a 13.8 percent increase in interception percentage (from 2.9 percent to 3.3 percent).
Overall, the Dallas Cowboys 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 his age, which will be 31 entering the 2013 season, it is very probable that Witten's decline in value to his quarterbacks will continue to diminish, and his quarterbacks will continue to get a limited return on the investment of throwing him passes. 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 organization 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.