Retirement hasn’t crossed Jason Witten’s mind yet.
A reporter mentioned the possibility after last year’s playoff loss to Green Bay and it caught Witten by surprise.
“I remember the guy who asked me the question and it’s a fair question,” Witten said. “It’s a really good question to ask after I finished my 14th season. I wasn’t thinking about it, but I was completely just kind of shell-shocked because it’s never entered my mind. That thought process hasn’t.”
Instead, Witten is embarking on his 15th season in the NFL and is on the verge of putting his name on even more records when he takes the field Sunday night against the New York Giants.
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The next accomplishment on deck? Most receiving yards in Cowboys history.
Witten needs only 17 yards to pass Michael Irvin’s mark of 11,888. He’ll also tie Ed Jones for most games played (224) in Cowboys history.
But the receiving yards mark is quite a feat given the strong history of the Cowboys organization.
“I’m honored to be able to pass it,” said Witten, who owns the franchise record for most receptions with 1,089 and counting.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a couple of those NFL records and they’re always special, especially when you understand the storied history of the NFL. But I don’t know, I guess being around here for so long, maybe as much as anything is the team records. I think it’s just getting to know the guys, being a fan of them, so many great players to come in and play for this organization.
“Michael represented that, the stories I’ve heard that he emptied the bucket every single day. That’s certainly what I’ve tried to do.”
Irvin couldn’t agree more and will be among the first to congratulate Witten on his accomplishment.
“For what he’s done — sustainability, consistency, the way he’s carried himself,” Irvin said. “When I first retired and I was going over to Valley Ranch to work out, I would look out onto that field and the only people I’d see working out is Jason Witten and Tony Romo.
“That right there, when Jason Witten is becoming what he is becoming, I’m OK with that because I know it’s not just physical talent. It was will and determination and hard work. Hey, that’s what I’m about. That’s what he’s about, so us being up there together is great.”
Witten, 35, remains the clear-cut leader in the Cowboys’ locker room. He’s a 10-time Pro Bowler with Hall of Fame credentials who still makes defensive backs look silly at times in practice.
Safety Kavon Frazier compared him to NBA great Kobe Bryant. Fellow safety Byron Jones knows covering Witten every day in practice has helped him be able to contain opposing tight ends such as Rob Gronkowski.
Witten might not be flashy like other tight ends of his generation such as Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, but he’s been consistently productive throughout his career.
“He’s not a flashy player and he doesn’t have to be,” Jones said. “He’s a true football player. He’s one of the last few true tight ends. … He’s the definition of true toughness. He’s been around 15 years and has played well. It’s been remarkable.”
The Cowboys coaching staff can’t say enough good things about Witten. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan called him the best NFL player he’s been around when it comes to the “whole package.”
Coach Jason Garrett has raved about Witten for two straight days at his news conference.
Asked for Witten’s greatest attribute, Garrett said: “Just his approach. His approach to life. His approach to football. Showing up every day and being his best every minute of every day. He loves the game. It’s all derived from his love for the game. It’s also the discipline he has as a person that reflects in his execution.”
Witten has shown no signs of slowing down and has no interest in following friends such as Romo, Doug Free and DeMarcus Ware into retirement. He remains driven and more records are bound to come his way.
But Witten made it clear — the only thing he wants to accomplish is winning a championship. He has never been to a Super Bowl, let alone an NFC Championship game in his storied career.
That’s the only thing missing from his legacy.
“I know where I am in my career and all of my focus truly has been on that there is a happy ending to the final chapters here,” Witten said. “And that is competing and winning a championship.”
Cowboys vs. Giants
7:30 p.m. Sunday, KXAS/5