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31) How Much Longer Can The Cowboy Vets Keep Up Their 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 31 days until the Cowboys take the field in Oxnard, Calif., today's question centers on the longevity of the veteran Cowboys.    

*31) How Much Longer Can The Longest-Tenured Cowboys Keep Playing At An Elite Level? *

Jason Witten just celebrated his 31st birthday last month, a few months removed from a season that began with questions about his health and how long he could keep playing at the same pace everyone was accustomed to seeing him.

A year that began with a spleen injury, drops and oddities soon turned into Witten's best season as a pro, as the tight end demonstrated his tank's nowhere close to empty.

He's not the only long-time Cowboys veteran and star in his 30s. DeMarcus Ware is coming off a season in which he experienced more injuries and pain than he's ever had to play with in his career. He still managed to record his seventh-straight double-digit sack season.

Injuries derailed nose tackle Jay Ratliff's season last year, as he was only able to play in six games. He seems healthier now and many believe the 4-3 switch could help maintain his health better than the previous scheme.

The defensive tackle Ratliff is expected to start next to, Jason Hatcher, seems to be doing better with age. He's playing much more than earlier in his career and has notched at least four sacks each of his last two seasons, playing in all 16 games last year.

Tony Romo finished as the NFL's third leading passer last season, but he also tied a career-high in interceptions. His passer rating was the lowest of his career, and at 33 years old, some will question how long the Cowboys' eldest player can play at a high or elite level as he attempts to capture his first NFL championship after earning his new contract.

Doug Free and Anthony Spencer are both 29 years old and will turn 30 next January, shortly after the regular season ends. Free enters the 2013 season with something to prove because of his struggles last season. Spencer also enters the year with something to prove, because once again he needs to earn a contract after getting the franchise tag. 

A total of 11 Cowboys players are at least 30 years old, including all of the previously named players other than Free and Spencer. All of them have enough left in the tank for the Cowboys' front office to believe they can start and play at a high level.

Sticking with our numerical journey to training camp, let's take a closer look at the number 31:

  • Center Travis Frederick was drafted with the 31st overall pick this year. It's the first time the Cowboys had the No. 31 overall pick in the NFL Draft.
  • The Cowboys have had some prominent players wearing the No. 31 in the past. Safeties Brock Marion, George Teague and Roy Williams all wore the number at one point in their careers. Benny Barnes had the number in Dallas from 1972-82. Defensive back Micah Pellerin currently wears the number.
  • Romo threw exactly 31 touchdowns in 2011 before tossing 28 last season. The 31 touchdown throws were his most since setting the Cowboys' record for touchdown passes in a season with 36 in 2007.
  • The No. 31 didn't sit well with the Cowboys last season. They scored exactly 31 points three different times during the season, and all three resulted in losses by a touchdown or less.
  • Dan Bailey attempted 31 field goals last season, drilling 29 of them. He made every field goal inside of 50 yards.
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