FRISCO, Texas – If there was doubt about Jason Witten's long-term future with the Cowboys, he erased it on Tuesday morning.
Witten signed a four-year contract extension to remain with the Cowboys through 2021, the club confirmed. The deal maxes out at a possible $29.6 million, according to reports.
The extension won't change Witten's $7.4 million salary or his $12.6 million salary cap charge for 2017, which were part of his pre-existing deal. However, it does grant the Cowboys the freedom to restructure the contract if they so choose, freeing up roughly $4 million in the process.
There had been speculation that Witten's playing career might be headed toward a close back in January, immediately following the Cowboys' playoff loss to Green Bay. Following this extension, though, that hardly seems to be the case.
The 2017 season will be Witten's 15th with the Cowboys, tying a franchise record set by Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Bill Bates and Mark Tuinei. If Witten plays the entirety of his contract – or even just a couple more seasons – he could set a new standard as the longest-tenured Cowboy in franchise history.
"He represents everything we want in a football player and he continues to get better and better and better," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett on Tuesday. "It's an amazing thing to say, a guy who's played as long as he has. But he had an outstanding year for us this past year, he embraces any role we give him, and we love having him on our football team and we love having him as a leader on our team."
Another few seasons will also afford Witten ample opportunities to set more Cowboy milestones. Witten currently sits just 17 yards behind Michael Irvin's franchise record for career receiving yards. He also needs to play in just two more games to set a new franchise record for games played, which Jones currently holds with 224.
Of course, Witten's place in Cowboys history has been secure for a long time, but this extension should also help him improve his already-lofty standing in NFL lore. The 10-time Pro Bowler sits just five receptions behind Tim Brown for No. 6 in NFL history. Thirteen more receptions would give him 1,103 – putting him past Cris Carter and into the top 5 in league history.
In fact, Witten's contract extension gives him a chance at rarefied air among NFL greats. Fellow tight end Tony Gonzalez currently sits No. 2 in NFL history with 1,325 career catches. Entering 2017, Witten sits 236 catches behind that mark – meaning he could pass Gonzalez if he averaged 47 receptions over the duration of his extension.
Regardless of whether he achieves that, Witten's resume for the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be quite extensive by the time he retires – which doesn't appear to be any time soon. On top of that, the extension gives the Cowboys one of its emotional focal points for the foreseeable future.
With the Cowboys turning over a young roster, highlighted by Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, Witten's presence in the locker room should pay dividends for at least a few more years to come.