According to multiple sources, tight end Jason Witten is officially calling it a career. He has told the Cowboys that he plans to retire to become an analyst on "Monday Night Football."
Witten, who will turn 36 on Sunday, finishes his future Hall of Fame career with 1,152 catches, ranking fourth in NFL history, trailing only Jerry Rice, Tony Gonzalez and Larry Fitzgerald.
Witten is the Cowboys' all-time leader in receiving yards (12,448) and third in franchise history with 68 receiving TDs.
Witten had 63 catches for 560 yards in 2017 in what was his 15th and final season. It was the lowest totals since he became the Cowboys’ starting tight end in 2004.
But he still could play, and the Cowboys wanted him back in 2018.
Witten had every intention of returning, until he was offered the job at ESPN.
It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
He follows former quarterback Tony Romo in the booth.
Last year, Romo retired after the Cowboys released him and took a job with CBS.
Witten also follows longtime receiver Dez Bryant out the door.
Bryant was released April 13.
So in a matter of a year, the Cowboys franchise has said goodbye to Romo, Bryant and now Witten.
The news broke of Witten’s impending decision right before the start of the 2018 NFL Draft last week. He told the Cowboys he needed a few days, possibly through the weekend, to make a final decision.
It took a few more days than expected.
Vice President Stephen Jones called Witten one of the top five guys to ever play for the Cowboys and said on Wednesday they would support any decision he made.
Jones said the Cowboys resisted trying to talk Witten into playing because of the commitment it takes to play the game. They want it to be his decision.
“We struggle with that,” Jones said. “You don’t want to talk someone into something. This is a tough game. I learned a lot from Coach Bill Parcells. You have to be all in to play this game. You want to him to do what’s in the best interest of him and his family.
"We don’t need to be selfish. We support what's best in for him. We don’t need to be talking him into something. He knows we are a much better football team with him. We would love to have him. At the same time, we are going to be so supportive of him.”
Witten will be tough to replace on and off the field. The tight end group is thin and experienced, including fourth-round pick Dalton Schultz, Rico Gathers, Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin, who have combined for nine catches for 94 yards in 29 career games.
The Cowboys are officially a team in transition with quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott replacing Romo, Bryant and now Witten as the faces of the team.
Jones, however, says the Cowboys are resetting with the same goals in place.
“Jason, Dez and Tony — they have been synonymous with the Cowboys' last 10 years,” Jones said. “But at the same time, we have young players who are coming with Zeke, Dak and the offensive line. And lot of young guys to point to now. I don’t look at it as a transition as much I do as just resetting.
“No one has more respect for what those guys have done to our team. They have brought so much entertainment to Dallas, to the Cowboys, to our fans. No one has more respect for that than I do. They are warriors.”
Now they are all gone, with Witten being the last to walk out of the door.
Witten leaves as the team’s modern-day Mr. Cowboy, holder of 12 franchise records.
In addition to the receiving yards and receptions, Witten is the franchise leader or tied for the lead in seasons (15), consecutive games played (235), career starts (239), career starts (229), consecutive starts (179), most Pro Bowls (11), most receptions in a single game (18), more career games with 10 or more receptions (11), most 100 yard games for a tight end (21) and consecutive games with a catch (130).
He was also the 2012 recipient of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, given to a single player each year who makes a positive impact on his community.