Cowboys TE Jason Witten retires, to join Monday Night Football as analyst

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May 3, 2018 12:24 pm Published by

FRISCO, Texas — Jason Witten is retiring from the Dallas Cowboys and joining ESPN as an analyst for Monday Night Football, multiple sources told ESPN on Thursday.

Witten wrestled with the decision for the past week, alternating almost hourly between taking the job and playing a record 16th season for the Cowboys, sources said. He has informed owner and general manager Jerry Jones and coach Jason Garrett of his decision.

Sources said he leaned heavily on Jones in coming to a conclusion.

Witten, who turns 36 on Sunday, could not be reached for comment. On Wednesday, executive vice president Stephen Jones said there was no timeline on when Witten would make a decision.

Another network made what was termed an “interesting” offer that would allow him to keep playing and potentially walk away in 2019, according to a source.

Ultimately, he opted to retire to start a new chapter in his life after one of the most successful runs in Cowboys history.

Witten leaves as the Cowboys’ all-time leader in games played, consecutive games played, starts, catches and receiving yards. When he played in his 11th Pro Bowl in January, he tied Bob Lilly for the most in team history. He is fourth in NFL history in catches, behind only Jerry Rice, Tony Gonzalez and Larry Fitzgerald. Only Gonzalez has more receiving yards among tight ends in NFL history.

Had Witten returned for a 16th season, he would have been the longest-tenured player in franchise history. Instead he leaves tied with Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Bill Bates and Mark Tuinei.

After ESPN’s Chris Mortensen had reported during the draft about Witten’s intentions to retire and join Monday Night Football, Garrett and other coaches actively attempted to persuade him to keep playing, according to a team source.

Witten was a regular in the captains’ workouts in February and March at The Star, and until Monday, he had not missed a workout since the official offseason program began.

Jerry Jones was aware of the possibility Witten could be done playing before Friday’s report. On Saturday, the Cowboys drafted Stanford tight end Dalton Schultz in the fourth round.

With Witten walking away, the Cowboys have Schultz, Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin and Rico Gathers on the depth chart at tight end. They have combined for nine career receptions, all by Swaim. Witten had 19 games in his career in which he had at least nine catches.

In 2017, Witten had the fewest catches (63) and yards (560) since his rookie year, but he had five touchdowns and remained a valued target of Dak Prescott. He was added to the Pro Bowl as a first alternate.

His loss might be felt more in the locker room. He was the unquestioned leader of the team and a valued voice for Garrett. Without Witten, more of that responsibility will fall on Prescott, who is entering his third season. Already the key defensive leader, linebacker Sean Lee will also step into that void.

As he steps away, Witten’s legacy with the team is secure. He has Hall of Fame credentials, and Jones has said he is one of the five best people he has known in nearly 30 years in the NFL, which makes him a virtual lock for the team’s prestigious Ring of Honor.

Former teammate Dez Bryant congratulated the tight end with an Instagram post.

Witten’s return to AT&T Stadium in his new job is set for Nov. 5, when the Cowboys host the Tennessee Titans.

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