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15) How Much Longer Will The Veterans Continue To Play?


IRVING, Texas – As the Cowboys focus on the offseason, training camp is still in sight.

Coming off two straight 8-8 seasons and three full seasons removed from the playoffs, the Cowboys have plenty of question marks surrounding them as they prepare for the 2013 season.

As we count down the days to camp, the writers of will take a different question each day that is hovering over this team.

With 15 days until the Cowboys take the field in Oxnard, Calif., today's question centers on the team's long-standing veterans:

15) How Much Longer Will The Veterans Continue To Play?

Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Bill Bates and Mark Tuinei share a special distinction as the three longest-tenured Cowboys in team history. All three players spent 15 years with Dallas, beating out a host of other Cowboy greats – such as Bob Lilly, Lee Roy Jordan, Mel Renfro and others – by just one season.

It's pretty rare to see an NFL player last 15 seasons in total, let alone 15 seasons with the same franchise. But fittingly enough, two of the team's most visible modern stars are sitting in striking range of that milestone.

Both Jason Witten and Tony Romo are entering their 11th seasons with the team – all of them played for the Cowboys. Neither is getting any younger at 31 and 33 years old, respectively. But it seems like a plausible scenario for the duo to overtake Jones, Bates and Tuinei. If Romo finishes out his new, monster contract, he'll be with the team through 2019, which would give him 17 seasons as a Cowboy. And he plays quarterback – a position with considerably less wear-and-tear than most.

Witten is a slightly different story -- firstly, because he plays the much more bruising tight end position, and secondly, because he'd have to earn another contract to top the record. If Witten finished his current seven-year contract, he'd finish up after the 2017 season, after exactly 15 years with the team. By that time, Witten would be 35 years old and would still need to be producing at a high level to continue on.

The easy argument is Tony Gonzalez, who continues to post amazing numbers despite recently turning 37 – 2013 will be his 17th season in the league. But we can all agree that's much more the exception than the norm.

What about two other long-tenured veterans, Jay Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware. With each defensive lineman entering his ninth year with the Cowboys, that mark of 15 seasons still seems a way off. Though it's worth noting that Jones himself played defensive end, and other all-time greats like Bruce Smith and Michael Strahan played 19 seasons and 15 seasons, respectively. 

It's a fun number to keep track of, but more importantly than records, the Cowboys' future success could be predicated on the durability of their cornerstone players.

Sticking with our numerical journey to training camp, let's take a closer look at the number 15: [embedded_ad]

  • Speaking of Witten, his 15 receptions in 2007 against Detroit were a franchise record. At least, they were until last fall, when Witten reset the record with 18 catches against the Giants.
  • 15 is the Cowboys record for losses in one season – one away from a winless record. The 1989 Cowboys went a miserable 1-15.
  • On the opposite side of that equation, the 1977, 1993 and 1995 Cowboys all put together 15 wins, including postseason victories. It's no surprise that all three squads won the Super Bowl.
  • Between 1996 and 1997, the Cowboys once went 15 consecutive games with a field goal in their point tally. It was the second longest such streak in team history.
  • Bob Hayes played in 15 playoff games in his decorated career, catching 27 passes for 425 yards and three touchdowns.
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