Dallas Cowboys

Why Jason Witten said coming out of retirement in 2018 wasn’t the right thing to do

Jason Witten returned to The Star in Frisco on Monday for the second annual Jason Witten College Football Man of the Year award ceremony.

A year ago, Witten kicked off the inaugural event while still a member of the Dallas Cowboys and preparing to play a 16th season.

Of course, that was before he abruptly retired a couple of months later to take a job he couldn’t refuse to become a game analyst for ESPN’s Monday Night Football.

Witten reflected on his up-and-down season in television and his desire to one day return as a coach.

He admitted that he missed the heck of out of playing and hesitated on whether a return to football had been completely ruled out.

There were reports that Witten thought about coming out of retirement last season in hopes of joining the Cowboys on their playoff run. But he said it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do for him or the team, which rebounded from a 3-5 start with seven wins in the final eight games to finish 10-6, win the NFC East and a wild-card game before losing to the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round.

That didn’t mean he never thought about it.

“It would have been hard to do that. In season, the challenge of that,” Witten said. “Those guys did that work. They deserve what they had last year. They put in the time. They were 3-5. They battled back. For me that is where the sense of accomplishment comes from, not catching a pass on 3rd and 7. It’s all the work that goes into that that motivates me that I take gratification from. It’s doing all the work to get there, not just to come in. That wouldn’t have been right to come back in the middle of that even in the midst of wanting to be part of a playoff run or much I see myself pulling for them. That wouldn’t have been a real possibility.”

So how about now? Is a comeback a possibility?

“No…I don’t think we are going to…I don’t know where that is,” Witten said with a smile.

Witten said he was the biggest Cowboys fan during the season and tried to catch their games every chance he got.

He retired but the game was not out of his system.

“I missed the heck out of playing,” Witten said. “Every day when I was part of the Cowboys and even before that I loved the game of football. I love the process. I loved March. I loved training camp. I loved getting better, adversity and going through it with guys. That shared commitment part of it. Nothing can replace that feeling. And I knew that.”

His longing for the game didn’t dissipate as the season went on and he may or may not have burnt some frustrations coaching his kids’ team.

“I took it out on my flag football team, my kids, my two boys team,” Witten said jokingly. “It’s hard to do that (walk away). First time in my life I was forced to kind of reflect on the journey. A lot of great memories. A lot of moments you think back to and what you would have done different. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy when I went through that process.”

Witten said broadcasting has helped him stay around the game by watching tape and giving analysis.

“That has kept me in it,” Witten said. ”Certainly, every chance I had I was turning on the Cowboys games.”

Witten believes he got better as an analyst as the season went on and lauded the good team he had around him in play-by-play man Joe Tessitore and fellow analyst Booger McFarland.

But he acknowledged some early foibles and word fumbles that caused quite a stir on social media and possibly had him thinking about playing football again.

“I took a little criticism early on,” Witten said. “A few words that I used, ‘Rabbit out of his head.’ I think you come to Dallas as a 20 year old kid hoping to be the best football player you can. You understand it is a big stage. Learning a new career, it’s all about how you communicate. I learned a ton this year as I went through it. As I went through this year I reflected on a lot of things I was taught as a player. I learned a lot about myself going through that.”

Witten’s desire to return to the game as a player can be debated. But he was pretty definitive about one day returning as a coach.

“How could I not,” Witten said. “That is what you love. What you love about television is you get to study these guys. The same things you loved about playing. You enjoy television. (Former Cowboys quarterback and CBS analyst) Tony (Romo) would probably say the same thing. Watching tape and studying. I try not to predict my future or think about that long term. I got a great team around me on Monday Night Football. But I would never say ‘never.’”

Wisconsin safety D’Cota Dixon won the 2018 Jason Witten Man of the Year Award Tuesday night.

The annual honor focuses on a player’s leadership and is given to a Division I player who exudes “exceptional courage, integrity, and sportsmanship both on and off the field”.

The two other finalists for the award were Alabama defensive lineman Derrick Brown and Kansas State offensive lineman Dalton Risner.

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Clarence E. Hill Jr. has covered the Dallas Cowboys as a beat writer/columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 1997. That includes just two playoff wins, six coaches and countless controversies from the demise of the dynasty teams of the 1990s through the rollercoaster years of the Tony Romo era until Jason Garrett’s process Cowboys.