Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten was admittedly more reflective this off-season with the departure from the game of longtime quarterback and best friend Tony Romo.
But not once did the Cowboys all-time leading receiver and likely future Pro Football Hall of Famer give any real consideration to walking away himself.
The 35-year-old briefly thought about his future after the Cowboys’ season-ending loss in the NFC Divisional playoffs to Green Bay Packers, but only because he was asked. Since then it has been full speed ahead in preparing for his 15th season in the NFL.
He signed a four-year, $29.6 million contract extension in March that could conceivably keep him playing until 2021.
So despite being surrounded in the Cowboys locker room by a group of players who were in grade school when he made his debut in 2003, Witten is committed as ever, and he made a point to tell his youthful teammates as much during the final week of minicamp.
“As I told these guys, I’m all in without restrictions,” Witten said. “Everything I got is into it. I think it would be too selfish if the thought (of retiring) even entered my mind. I know what goes into it. It’s full commitment on my end.”
Witten said he wouldn’t be able to come to the Cowboys headquarters and work as hard as he does if he even allowed himself to consider the possibility of this being his last minicamp, last training camp or last season.
Witten was touched by Romo’s decision to walk away from football and join CBS Sports as the lead football analyst, just as he was with the retirement decisions of longtime right tackle Doug Free and former teammate DeMarcus Ware.
But he said Romo made it easy for him during last season’s 13-3 campaign when then-rookie Dak Prescott led the Cowboys to 11 consecutive wins and was named the starter when Romo returned from injury.
“Tony was the first one to say it to me: ‘Don’t allow my situation to get in the way of what was happening to this football team last year,’ ” Witten said.
“As the off-season unfolded and he made the decision to join CBS, there is a day or two where you think, ‘Wow, look how quickly this has gone.’ I always think there is an appreciation of the guys you are able to do it with, and they are going on to new chapters in their life.”
But again there was never a point that Witten thought his time was coming to an end as well.
It’s just the cycle of life, per Witten, and he is in a different cycle.
As much as he appreciated the memories and times he shared with Romo, Ware, Free and the other former teammates he has played with, Witten said he is just as excited about going to work with Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott and his other teammates.
“I don’t look at it in an adversarial way of that group versus this group and ‘Man, I miss those guys,’ ” Witten said. “It’s an appreciation to have the opportunity.
“These guys love football, too. It’s a different bond. It’s a different opportunity. I love being part of that. I just build on this bond that we have.
“Those moments are still special to me. Those are some of my dearest friends, those guys — Tony, DeMarcus and Doug. I have so much respect for them. But [I am] also excited about the opportunity that I have. If anything, it’s motivated me.”
More important, Witten said he is motivated by a will to continue to play and a drive to win and try to bring a Super Bowl title back to Dallas.
It’s about a respect and love for a game that he still can play at a high level, albeit with a different role as big brother and mentor at times.
“I revere the game that I get to play and the opportunity that I have and this moment,” Witten said. “What an opportunity for me. I feel like I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have this chance. I work hard at it. I know the challenge.
“People are going to ask, ‘When is he going to fall off. When is that going to happen?’ I don’t look at that as a negative. I know what’s at stake. I know what I’m willing to do and what I’m willing to give up to have an opportunity to play at that level.”
And he is not even thinking about walking away.