Tight end Jason Witten will return to the Dallas Cowboys next season after spending the previous season in retirement while working as an analyst for ESPN’s Monday Night Football.

Jason Witten Dallas Cowboys
Jason Witten, tight end for the Dallas Cowboys, after a 2018 game at AT&T Stadium in Irving, Texas. (Image: Getty)

Witten turns 37 in May. He spent 15 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys during a Hall of Fame career in which he set franchise records for the Cowboys. Witten played every game of his professional career with the Cowboys. He retired with the Cowboys reception record, most games played, most consecutive games played, most starts, and consecutive starts.

Age: 36
Hometown: Elizabethton, Tennessee
College: Tennessee
Position: Tight End
Draft: Third Round, 2003 NFL Draft
Awards: 11 Pro Bowls, 2012 Walter Payton Man of the Year
Stats: 1,152 receptions, 68 TDs

Witten ended his career with the fourth-most receptions in NFL history. He caught 1,152 passes for 12,448 yards, and 68 touchdowns. He caught 1,000 or more yards in four seasons. In 2010, he caught a career-high 9 touchdowns.

Witten is currently 21st all-time in total receiving yards, but he’s second overall in tight ends behind Tony Gonzalez.

John Wayne Witten

Witten signed a one-year deal with his old team worth $3.5 million. His salary could top out at $5 million based on incentives. Witten will serve as a back-up and mentor for the current squad of tight ends.

“The fire inside of me to compete and play this game is just burning too strong,” Witten said in a statement. “This team has a great group of rising young stars, and I want to help them make a run at a championship. This was completely my decision, and I am very comfortable with it. I’m looking forward to getting back in the dirt.”

“He is John Wayne,” said owner Jerry Jones. “And he is John Wayne in our dressing room. He’s John Wayne in the one-on-one drills in the end zone in the dark, rough days of two-a-days. So he’s the real deal. I like that for football. I’d like to think that’s what’s going to be here in the future, whether that’s on the field or coaching.”

For most of Witten’s career, he was a valuable safety value for quarterback Tony Romo. When Romo retired due to multiple injuries, rookie Dak Prescott was pressed into action. Witten served a similar role for Prescott, who relied on the savvy veteran to bail him out in tough situations.

Coaches adored Witten’s work ethic. It rubbed off on his teammates, which is why Witten’s return is expected to boost morale in the locker room.

“I’ve never seen anybody really embrace the physical part of football like Jason,” Jerry Jones said. “He missed that. The rougher it is, the better. We’re happy to have him. We think he can still play, and he thinks he can still play.”

Rough MNF

When Witten retired, his name came up as a potential head coaching candidate at his alma mater Tennessee. He pivoted to broadcasting instead of coaching.

It’s not uncommon to see former players pop up in the broadcast booth. However, Jason Witten transitioned into broadcasting by landing a job with ESPN. Witten replaced Jon Gruden on Monday Night Football when Gruden accepted the head coaching job with the Oakland Raiders.

Not all ex-jocks in the booth are awesome like Tony Romo. Many of them struggle, especially in their first year. Witten was definitely one of those noob broadcasters. For the first time in his career, he took heat for doing something poorly. Social media, especially Twitter, took Witten behind the shed on every mistake, misstep, and miscue.

Witten’s commentary was not even in the same league. Then again, his former teammate set a high bar. Romo’s commentary is absolutely stunning for CBS. Romo’s ability to quickly read defenses and formations elevated color commentary to new heights. The former Cowboys QB outright predicted most of the New England Patriots offense during their march to the Super Bowl.

In a statement, ESPN said, “We thank Jason for his many contributions to Monday Night Football and to ESPN over the past year and wish him continued success. We have seen many former coaches and players go into broadcasting before eventually returning to the game they love, so we understand Jason’s desire to return to the Dallas Cowboys.”

The Cowboys went 10-6 last season and won the NFC East title after Carson Wentz and Alex Smith went down with injuries. The Cowboys won a Wild Card game against Seattle even though the Seahawks backdoored a cover due to an injured kicker. In the next round, the Cowboys were destroyed in the Divisional Playoffs by the LA Rams. According to the South Point Casino and Sports Book in Las Vegas, the Dallas Cowboys are 20/1 odds to win the Super Bowl in 2020.