Exactly one week after announcing his retirement from the Dallas Cowboys, tight end Jason Witten was officially welcomed into the ESPN family Thursday.
He was part of a conference call to announce the new Monday Night Football broadcasting team of Witten, Joe Tessitore, Booger McFarland and Lisa Salters.
Witten, again, talked about why he decided to retire from the Cowboys seemingly so abruptly after 15 years and take this golden opportunity to join ESPN as an NFL analyst on Monday Night Football. He talked about the process over the last few months, the advice he got from former teammate now CBS broadcaster Tony Romo and he even broke down the remaining tight ends on the Cowboys roster.
Here are some selected Witten-oriented question and answers from the ESPN conference call:
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JASON WITTEN: I'm so excited to be joining ESPN and the Monday Night Football team, and as they said, I'm champing at the bit to get started. In January, February, March and most of April this year, I was planning on playing football, but when you're 36 in the NFL, I think it's fair to say that you're always day-to-day, and when this opportunity arose to be a part of an institution like Monday Night Football, for somebody like me who just has so much respect for this game and growing up as a kid, never missing a Monday Night Football game, to join this team. I realized that it was about a team, and I felt that chemistry, and just honored to join it and to join Boog, and I'm just champing at the bit. I know I've got a lot of work to do. Looking forward to sharing my knowledge and my insight on the game of football that we all love.
Q. Have you talked to Jon Gruden, sort of tapped into what knowledge he might have about the job?
JASON WITTEN: Yeah, I did reach out and was fortunate to talk to Coach Gruden for a while during this process. I've long admired his work in the NFL, and so he was great. He shared a lot of detail with me about what all takes place. I think one of the things that he wanted me to know, and it's been echoed throughout the entire staff, is how much work it takes, and I think he had tremendous detail and passion for what it takes.
We had a good visit over the phone, and I'm certainly going to take advantage of all the resources to get into camp with this team, and I'm champing at the bit to do that because I think the only way we're going to improve, I know certainly for me, is to get out there and see these teams and start studying them and having that opportunity. As Joe said, our schedules are booked out, and we're excited to get going.
Q. Jason, I was just wondering, for a long time you've been in those production meetings a day or two before a big game where you're talking to the TV analysts, and now it's going to be you talking to players. What do you think it's going to be like kind of sitting on the other side of that, and then specifically your first time when you have to go back to the Star?
JASON WITTEN: Well, first off, it's a great opportunity. I know how much information this team was able to receive when they came in and you were able to sit in these broadcast meetings. You know that they're doing -- these analysts are doing their homework. They're studying film. They're approaching it the right way. I look at it as a great opportunity, not only to get to spend time with the coaches and players, but as I'm studying, I'm going to have a lot of questions, and I want to use that time to build a relationship and to get information.
I know the rest of the team is going to do the same thing. I always think that there's great chemistry in those times, sitting in those meetings over the years, very comfortable doing that. I'm sure it'll be a little bit emotional when I come back to the Star and see some teammates and friends of mine, but I think that's just part of the process, and we've all experienced it, and there's special moments and emotions that go into it, but I've had the opportunity over the last week to really reflect, and I'm so proud of the way I approached the game and the people I was able to do it with. And now I'm able to transition into this and attack it the same way that I attacked it for 15 years as a pro player. You know, it will be great to see those guys, but we've both got a job to do, and I think there's a healthy respect for that.
Q. Jason, I know this is still obviously very new, so I ask this question under that framework, but what is your comfort level on being critical of players or coaches when criticism is warranted, and how do you philosophically look at NFL analysts being critical of players and of the game itself?
JASON WITTEN: Well, I think you have to have the confidence to share thoughts that are going to be critical or potentially could be critical of a player or coach or a decision that's made in a game. That's a challenge and a role that I accepted, and I understand it, and certainly I'll embrace that situation. As a player, I never allowed my feelings to get hurt in that situation. I never felt like somebody was personally attacking me. They have a job to do. They have to call the game.
People are looking for their insight. And so with that -- the ones I respected the most as a player are the ones that called it like they see it. They tell us why and provide reasoning for that. And so that's going to be my approach. That's a lot of concerns as I'm walking into a different territory, but this is not one of them. I feel confident, and I have such a healthy respect for this game and the coaches and players and what it takes to perform at a high level, but that's what my job is, and I think I'll do a good job of communicating that and telling the why, why that's happening and why my opinion is formed that way.
Q. Jason, obviously this is a high-profile gig for your first TV work, but Tony -- how much confidence did you get from seeing Tony pull this off last year, and what has he shared with you, if anything, about what it takes to do this job?
JASON WITTEN: Well, first off, I mean, Tony has been a great friend for a long time. We did visit regarding this situation, but it was briefly. It happened so fast with it. I'm sure as it unfolds the next few months, he'll continue to be a great friend and a resource for me. In reference to how he performed, I thought Tony did a really nice job in his first season. I thought he really brought a new approach. There was a freshness in his approach. His energy level was really high. I think a lot of people really enjoyed hearing him call the games the way he did. At the end of the day, I think people really liked his insight. He had a unique perspective, and I felt like he was teaching often times.
And I think that's something from coming right off the football field, speaking that language and seeing it quickly certainly -- I think there's probably a lot of similarities in our approach from that standpoint, but hey, look, you've got to be yourself, and as I've gone through this process and studied other guys and watched it, the one thing I've always gone back to and the team around me has told me numerous times during the auditions was that you need to be yourself and have confidence in that, and look, I have had a lot of reps at doing that, of being myself, and continuing to work at it and approaching it. That's the way I approached my career was I was able to figure it out fairly quickly.
So I think there's a lot of insight in being able to provide teaching with it, and Tony did a really, really good job and made people feel comfortable, like he was sitting at the house on the couch, and he communicated that very well, and I hope to do the same.
Q. For a lot of people, broadcasters especially, Monday Night Football is something they grew up watching, kind of a pinnacle. Is that something that you have memories of watching?
JASON WITTEN: Yeah, I said early on, Monday Night Football really is an institution, and it's the best of the best. I grew up watching Al Michaels and John Madden call those games. My grandfather was my high school football coach, so he would tell me about Dandy Don and the Giffords and Cosells and just such history. To have an opportunity to carry on that tradition as Booger referenced and enjoy it and teach and share our insight and have a great time, I think that's what is so special about it.
I know playing the last 15 years, you always circle that Monday Night Football game because it's the only game on. It's the end of the week in the football world, and it's an opportunity for everybody to watch and to share it. I heard a lot about the schedule and what Monday Night Football is compared to what it used to be, and I'll be honest with you, I'm really excited about where it's at and the games that we have, and not only turning on that torch and the tradition but taking it even to a new level, along with this team.
Q. Jason, I have a question. Were you approached by other TV networks such as FOX about working on their NFL game coverage, and if so, why did you pick ESPN? And then I've got a broader question for everybody in the group, which is why do ex-Cowboys keep getting all the good jobs in NFL TV?
JASON WITTEN: I did have an opportunity to talk to some other networks. I don't want to go too crazy into that. But I just -- at the end of the day for me, I'm a big believer in the team, and I went through this process, it just leaped off the screen at me when I left there. I was calling these games and surrounded by these folks, that there was just a different touch that they put on it. And so having the opportunity to go into this together with Joe and Boog, and then obviously with Stephanie and Lee and Jay and his team and the tradition that they've had, that was something that was very enticing to me to be a part of that, Monday Night Football, as I said. I was fortunate to those other networks that entertained the fact of bringing me in and talking to me, but Monday Night Football is a great fit there at ESPN for me.
Q. Jason, if you can put your analyst's hat on for the first time, the guys that are replacing you in that tight end room have nine catches between them. What can you tell us about Jeff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, Rico Gathers and obviously they drafted a guy in the fourth round, Dalton Schultz, but what about the guys that you were with the last couple years?
JASON WITTEN: Yeah, I mean, first off, just piggy-backing on that last question, I also think that certainly playing for the Dallas Cowboys has provided opportunity, but when you look at those guys like Troy and Dale, I mean, they've earned it. They've been really good. That definitely provided opportunity, but they've been taking it to another level with the way they've performed and called the games.
To your question, look, they haven't had a lot of opportunities to play, but I think in the last week, we've seen that Jerry has come out and said that he feels confident in this group. And so playing with Jeff Swaim for the last three years, I think there's some upside to his ability, he just hasn't played a lot of games. They really liked him, they traded up in the draft for him, and I think for those guys, they're going to have their role in how it's all going to play out.
They certainly like Rico. He has a big ability to stretch the field. Coming off the basketball court, he is athletic, he can make plays. Can he do it for 60 plays? He hasn't shown that consistency to be able to do that. And so they're going to have to lean on Swaim to be able to kind of carry the workload, but they do have a young talent in Jarwin and Rico that I think they see as a little bit of flash player that can come in and have roles in the red zone or 3rd down in the passing game.
Those guys will be okay. I mean, I still liked sitting in those meetings with them and going through this the last few years, they know what it takes to play that position, and I hope that I've shown them that. But they can't put the pressure on themselves. They just need to go play and feel confident in their system. Scott Linehan has had success with tight ends, so they'll figure out their roles and what they want to do, and really more than anything, they've got to get comfortable in this back-friendly offense that they're building in Dallas.
Q. I'm sure you saw some of the coverage of Cris Collinsworth getting brutalized by Eagles fans for his analysis during the Super Bowl, and I was wondering if you've given any thought or prepared yourself for just being attacked by some fans who are just going to claim that you hate their team no matter what?
JASON WITTEN: Well, I've had thick skin for a while. I mean, that's happened my whole life, going on the road and getting booed or saying things to me. I've been called almost everything. You know, that's part of competition. But I think to echo what you asked, with Cris, you know, I can't stand when I'm listening to a game, and you get the sense of a homer type of guy or a guy talking about we, or influencing his opinion. That's not what Cris does. That's not what these really good guys do.
So I'm going to be objective, and if I fail at that, then I'm failing the viewer and I'm failing ESPN. Look, I know that that's what they're betting on me, and as I said earlier, there's a lot of things I have to work through and a lot of work to do, but this is not one of them. I mean, that's my job, and guys are going to make mistakes. They're going to fail out there on the field, and there's probably going to be a few bad decisions. So I feel comfortable with our team, and I've said in those meetings many times with Lisa over the years and she's had to ask me tough questions, and that's just part of it. There's a healthy respect, and I move on from it. I'm going to be objective, and I feel confident doing that. Look, those boos are going to happen for a long time. They're not going to stop now.