While holding back tears, All-Pro Tight End Jason Witten officially retired from the NFL on Wednesday. It is the second high profile departure from the Dallas Cowboys this offseason, with Dez Bryant being released in April. Add in the fact that quarterback Tony Romo also retired last offseason; the Dallas Cowboys lost three impactful leaders in one year. The next one will have to lead a revamped and new-look Cowboys squad in 2018.
To replace Witten as a player and as a leader is pretty hard task. Fans and media alike have noted that Witten just was born for the job as the face of the franchise. He showed his fellow teammates the right way to do things as a professional football player, on-and-off the field. You can tell the respect he had in the locker room. Practically everyone inside the Star was ready to line up and congratulate and give their best wishes to the future hall-of-famer.
So who is the next player on the roster that can be the next Witten, Romo, or Bryant?
You could argue that the quarterback should naturally be the next to step up to the leadership role. The team has even overhauled the offense to fit Dak Prescott’s needs and made it better for him to succeed. They even upgraded the offensive line for better protection, all to make Prescott more comfortable entering his third year at the position. The biggest thing is that Prescott now is the unquestioned leader on the offense, now that both Witten and Bryant are off the team. It is hard for any quarterback to try to establish himself and try to lead, while veterans with bigger skins on the wall are there. This allows Dak to take control for the first time really.
The problem is that we don’t know how that could turn out. From what we’ve seen, it makes you confident that he can take the next step, but it is not a sure thing. Dak will need to to adjust and focus on trying to get the offense better this season. If he does that, leadership will naturally follow through.
The one player who is ready to take on the mantle of being the face of the franchise is also the most senior member of the defense, linebacker Sean Lee.
From the he was drafted, Lee has shown that he is a unique player. Although very talented, no one predicted he would turn into one of the best linebackers in the league, when healthy. Even as a rookie he made plays by picking off Peyton Manning twice in one game. Since then, watching Lee play is like a clinic on how to properly play the position. So many young players learn by his example.
Lee’s play allowed him to be defensive play-caller on the field early in his career and was one of the early moments of his leadership capabilities. Add in the fact he is constantly watching film in his free time, Lee has started to show the work-ethic that rivals Witten. Lee is almost now a de-facto coach even, sometimes leading film room sessions with the defense as seen on the new Cowboys documentary series “All or Nothing”. His fellow players respect him and know that he is the heart and soul of the defense.
If anyone is ready to take over the mantle of leader from Witten, Sean Lee is the best and only candidate right now.
Dak will be ready soon enough and Lee will need his help leading these Cowboys in 2018.
Replacing legends on the field is hard, but their leadership is harder to replicate.