As Giants Loom, Witten On 15th Season, Drive To Compete, Next Milestone

FRISCO, Texas– For the 15th straight year, Jason Witten has a single focus: the next opponent.

As Sunday night's season opener against the New York Giants looms – Witten's franchise-record tying 15th season with the organization – the veteran tight end is approaching more history:

With 17 yards, he'll pass Michael Irvin (11,904) as the club's all-time receiving yards leader.

It's not his first priority this week, for sure – the Cowboys are motivated to start the season on a positive note against their division rival – but it's more proof of Witten's value to the franchise over 15 years and counting.

Head coach Jason Garrett played with Irvin, Cowboys Ring of Honor member and Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinee, back in the 1990s. He sees similarities between Irvin and Witten "the way a lot of great players are similar."

"The drive to be the best and the willingness to do whatever it takes each and every day to be the best," Garrett said. "I have great memories and images of Michael Irvin at Valley Ranch by himself, late in the day, 105 degrees out, running routes. He's got weighted vests on. He's got his shoulder pads, his helmet, his Walton Payton mouthpiece, again and again and again running routes.

"That's Witten. Each and every day in everything that he does, I've never seen him kind of mail it in. Never once."

This latest milestone, whenever it comes, will be significant to Witten because of the man he'll join in team history.

Irvin has offered helpful advice for years. Early in Witten's career, they ran into each other at Valley Ranch one night in the offseason and discussed route running and training techniques.

"He had taken his son up there to work out at Valley Ranch," Witten recalled. "We ended up talking. It really wasn't this planned session, so to speak.

"It was a great experience for me to be around him in that capacity and over the years at different times – at the Pro Bowl and different venues that we've been at – to be able to have that relationship. He's been a great resource for me."

Witten is already the team's all-time receptions leader (1,089), and last season he became its all-time leader in games started (213) and consecutive games started (163).

Sunday's appearance will tie Ed "Too Tall" Jones for most career games played by a Cowboy (224). Witten also needs six receptions to surpass Tim Brown (1,094) for sixth all-time on the league's career receptions list.

Of course, team goals are most important.

Witten watched three friends and teammates – Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware and Doug Free – retire in the offseason. He never thought about retirement himself. And he's not ready to talk about his legacy.

It's still being written.

"My approach has always been when I evaluate it, how can I get better, how can I continue to play?" he said. "Certainly, I know where I'm at in my career. All of my focus truly has been on that there's a happy ending to the final chapters here – and that's competing and winning a championship."

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