Jason Witten a sure-fire Hall of Famer, but is he a first-ballot tight end?

Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten informed owner Jerry Jones and coach Jason Garrett he will retire to join ESPN's "Monday Night Football" broadcast booth as an analyst. The 35-year-old has built a definitive case for a Hall of Fame bid, as he's appeared in 239 games with 229 starts, totaling 1,152 catches for 12,448 yards and 68 touchdowns.

Witten's 1,152 career receptions rank fourth in NFL history behind Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice (1,549), tight end Tony Gonzalez (1,325) and Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (1,234). He is second behind Gonzalez in career receiving yards and Pro Bowl appearances by a tight end with 11. A two-time All-Pro, Witten is also the Cowboys' all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and sits third in receiving TDs.

It's inevitable that Witten will make it to Canton, but is he a first-ballot tight end?

So much depends on what the group of those eligible for the Hall of Fame looks like in five years, but Witten doesn't have the profile of a first-ballot inductee. That happens for players who were clearly the best at their position for extended stretches, something Witten can't claim. Guys like Witten -- complete players who were tough as nails and compiled stats through longevity -- usually have to wait a few years for an opening. Tight end Antonio Gates is without a job right now, and thus, he could be up for Canton in five years, too. He has more All-Pro team nods (three) than Witten (two) and was absolutely the superior player at his best. Joe Thomas and Dwight Freeney, who also retired this offseason, have more first-team All-Pro nods than Witten, as well (Thomas has six, Freeney has three). Witten was an incredible player and should absolutely get into Canton, but there's a reason that so few players enter on their first ballots. Thomas, Freeney and Gates would be ahead of Witten on my list. Jason Witten is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, no question about it. You don't close out a 15-year career having missed just one game, ranking fourth all-time in receptions, and in the top-five in every category among tight ends and NOT get the earliest trip to Canton possible. Witten may have never been the "top" tight end in any given year, but he was never outside the top five for the vast majority of his career. His sustained consistency and elite production merit a first-ballot entrance. Jason Witten is definitely a Hall of Famer, but I don't think he's first-ballot. First-ballot status should be reserved for the game-changers and revolutionaries at a certain position, and I don't see him as that. He is an excellent player with longevity and consistent production throughout his career. Yet, I'm not convinced that he revolutionized the position like some of the guys who have gone in before him. I give him credit as being a "gold jacket guy," just not the denotation of being first-ballot. Absolutely. To me, a Hall of Famer means you were one of the best at your position for an extended period of time. Witten has set the gold standard for almost two decades now. He's got more receptions than every Hall of Fame RECEIVER except one. But as important as the numbers are when we're talking about the Hall, the one thing that he was always proud of -- and it showed up all over the film -- was his blocking. A lot of tight ends don't want any part of that, but he was going to give maximum effort even if he was on the backside of a play. He didn't get a lot of credit when DeMarco Murray led the league in rushing in 2014, but a lot of those big runs came out of the two- and three-tight end formations where Murray ran right behind Witten. Jason Witten is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He's somewhat of a unique case. With so many younger voters than there were in the early 2000s, those that are in the position to vote six years from now will be more than familiar with Witten's career. He's second among tight ends in career receptions behind a certifiable all-time great in Tony Gonzalez, who should get in next year.

In order for a player to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, I have always thought that at some point, they needed to be the best player at their position. Witten was first-team All-Pro only twice. When he entered the league, it was Gonzalez, then for a brief time Antonio Gates, then eventually Rob Gronkowski. Yet, Witten was No. 2 or No. 3 for over a decade. If you are the second in the pecking order of your position, and you play as long as Witten has, you deserve the prestige of making it into Canton on your first try. Also of note: There are many who cover the league who thought Gates was better. Maybe from a touchdown standpoint, and how scary he was to defensive coordinators in his prime. Yet, Witten's willingness as a blocker meant he could play in any set. That's what makes Gronk so special. Even in today's spread-'em-out-and-make-the-defense-declare-itself offense, there's still much value in a tight end who can seal the edge, even if he's not the greatest at it. He missed one game his entire career, something Gronk and Gates can't claim. Witten's clutch factor also, well, factors. Jason Witten is a player who you expect to just do their job on every play, and that's what he's done for 15 seasons. He's always in the right place and every once in a while does something above and beyond. Witten has a toughness about him and is still out-thinking defenders and making big plays at 35 years old. He's everything you want in a tight end and he's right up there with Tony Gonzalez for me.

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