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Cowboys plan to use Jason Witten wisely

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - DECEMBER 10: Jason Witten #82 of the Dallas Cowboys looks on against the New York Giants during the second half in the game at MetLife Stadium on December 10, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

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Jason Witten doesn’t like to leave the field. Ever. Not at practice. Not at a walk-through. Not during a game.

So how in the world are the Cowboys going to hold him to a pitch count this season?

The tight end averaged 65.5 snaps per game in 2017 when he played 98.4 percent of the team’s offensive plays. But Witten turns 37 in May, has missed a year and the Cowboys have young tight ends they want to continue to develop.

Thus, the Cowboys and Witten agreed he will play somewhere around 25 snaps a game.

“Well, Witt’s just been a great football player for us,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s been an incredibly productive player for us throughout his career -- one of the most productive tight ends in the history of the National Football League. He’s a complete tight end; he can play every down; he can really do everything you want a tight end to do. He can play on the ball; he can play off the ball. We’ve used him where he’s coming out of the backfield as a blocker, as a receiver. We’ve used him in the slot. We’ve used him outside. All of those things he’s been able to do throughout his career. I think, to answer your question, I think over the last couple years, as you get into Year 14, 15, I think he recognizes the importance of being able to take a practice off in training camp, and I think the same thing applies to how we would use him in a game right now. His greatest strength is his competitiveness, his desire, his drive to be a great football player and have a positive impact on our team. He’ll go to all ends of the Earth to be able to do that. That’s why he’s a Hall of Fame player. You never want to take that away from him. Having said that, we have a couple of young tight ends who emerged last year and started playing better and better as the year went on. We feel like those guys will have a role for us. All of that stuff will be fleshed out as we get going, but suffice it to say we’re really excited he’s back. We’re excited about the development of those young guys and how that tight end group is going to be.”

Witten could play a role similar to that of Antonio Gates with the Chargers. Gates, 38, averaged 22.8 snaps per game in playing 36.6 percent of the plays last season.