Cowboys tight end Jason Witten announced his retirement on Thursday, and plenty of stories about him referred to him as a future Hall of Famer. He may be, but no one should pencil him in for the class of 2023, which is his first year of eligibility.
The Hall of Fame selection committee hasn’t been particularly generous with tight ends. There are only eight tight ends in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and none of them got in on the first ballot. The last tight end inducted, Shannon Sharpe, was voted down twice before he was admitted in his third year of eligibility. If Sharpe (a four-time first-team All-Pro with three Super Bowl rings) had to wait, then Witten (a two-time first-team All-Pro with zero Super Bowl rings) will have to wait as well.
Witten may also be behind some more accomplished players on the list of first-year eligible players. Joe Thomas will be on that list as well, and Thomas would likely be ahead of Witten in line. If Adrian Peterson and Darrelle Revis retire this offseason, they’d go in ahead of Witten as well. And another tight end, Antonio Gates, could get in ahead of Witten as well, if Gates retires this offseason.
And that’s before we get to the long list of players who will be on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2023 for the second or third or fifth or 10th time. We don’t yet know who all those players will be, but the Hall of Fame ballot is crowded every year, and a maximum of five modern-era players can get in each year.
So while Witten has had a great career, first-ballot Hall of Famer will probably not be an item he can add to his résumé.