Jason Witten leaves retirement to play for the Dallas Cowboys
Some in the Dallas Cowboys organization wondered aloud about the team’s decision to sign tight end Jason Witten out of retirement one year after he left to be a broadcaster for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”
But Jason Garrett was excited about the move to bring the team’s all-time leading pass catcher back for a 16th season in the NFL.
Witten, who turns 37 in May, never really wanted to retire last year but felt the opportunity on ESPN was one he couldn’t pass up. The Cowboys never truly replaced him at tight end.
Now they get to move forward together, possibly for one final year after Witten agreed to a one-year, $5-million deal and Garrett in the final year of his contract in what is a make-or-break season for him.
“I’m excited about it,” Garrett said from the NFL Scouting Combine. “I know he thought about the decision to go do Monday Night Football. He thought about it long and hard. It was a very heartfelt decision. I don’t think it was an easy decision for him. It was such a great opportunity for him. I think that was the thing that pulled him there.
“But in the long conversations we had before he made that decision, I knew he still loved to play football. There is no question in my mind he can still play at a high level. When he was away from it, he continued to realize that and understand that. He just decided to make this decision because he still loves the game and wanted to be a part of it.”
Garrett refused to talk about how many snaps he expected Witten to play at this age.
A source said the Cowboys are looking to get 25 snaps a game from Witten and he understands he can’t play as much as did before he retired when he literally refused to come off the field.
The Cowboys have two young promising tight ends in Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz, who both got better as the season went on last year. They don’t see them taking a step back but they believe Witten’s experience will help, while adding competition to a position that is thin.
Geoff Swaim is a free agent and former Baylor basketball Rico Gathers has yet to prove he has a future in football.
“The biggest thing you try to create with your team is competition,” Garrett said. “It’s not about being a progress stopper, it’s about trying to play the best guys. We had a lot of young football players on our team this year, a lot of guys who hadn’t played any football before. I think they grew and progressed as the season went on. That was really good for our team. But the best thing you can do for our players, the best thing you can do for your team is to create competition. He is certainly someone who is going to come back and create a lot of competition in that tight end room.”
Witten has openly acknowledged he considered coming out of retirement during the 2018 season and joining the Cowboys on their playoff run. But he ultimately decided it wasn’t the right thing to do at the time.
Garrett said he had been in talks with Witten about returning since the end of the season and things intensified over the last few weeks. The issue was deciding where he was physically.
“He knows his body more than anyone else,” Garrett said. “He knows the demands of the game more than anybody to make an honest assessment of where he was physically. He was able to do that over the last few weeks. I think he felt good about it.
“It’s been his desire to come back and play. I think playing football still tugged at his heart. I think he felt there was still some meat on the bone, some things he still wanted to accomplish. I just think he loves it and wants to be in this environment. There is no doubt in his mind he can still play. Excited to have him back. “