Dallas Cowboys

This is one of the main reasons Jason Witten decided to come out of retirement

Dallas Cowboys: Jason Witten talks return to America’s Team

Dallas Cowboys: Jason Witten talks return to America's Team
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Dallas Cowboys: Jason Witten talks return to America's Team

In his first 15 seasons in the NFL, Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten has played with Tony Romo, Terrell Owens, Dez Bryant and DeMarcus Ware.

He has gone 13-3 and been to playoffs as the No. 1 seed twice.

But Witten sees in the 2019 Cowboys as the most talented team he has been on and possibly his best chance of reaching the Super Bowl.

“Yeah, I think it’s close,” Witten said without batting an eye. “The most talent I’ve seen.”

If you are looking for another reason why Witten is back with the Cowboys one season after retiring to become a broadcast analyst with ESPN’s Monday Night Football, then there it is.

Witten, 37, certainly missed the game.

But he started longing to return after watching his former teammates make a run at glory last season, winning the NFC East and a wildcard playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks before losing to the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round.

Witten doesn’t view himself as the missing link. He will share the tight end position with Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz and possibly Rico Gathers, while playing roughly 25 snaps per game.

But he is already proving during off-season workouts that there is little rust in his game and that there’s no change to the hard-working approach that saw him retire a year ago as the team’s all-time leading receiver with 11 trips to the Pro Bowl and a future in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He is not starting over.

“It was a long nine months away, and I think we all know how we go into making those decisions like that,” Witten said. “It’s great to get back in there. And having those captains’ workouts really allowed me to fit in. Within the first five minutes, it’s like ‘Okay, this is new for a second.’ But getting acclimated with those guys, [getting] back to work, [putting] your head down. That’s how I tried to approach it. So it’s been a good start. I know I have a lot of work still to do.”

When Witten left following the 2017 season he was the No. 1 voice in the locker room and the undisputed team leader as the elder statesman with the most skins on the wall.

He recognizes his role is different now with quarterback Dak Prescott, running Ezekiel Elliott and center Travis Frederick as the leaders on offense and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence as the heart and soul of the defense.

“Fitting in with teammates has never been an issue for me. It’s always been something that came very natural,” Witten said. “It was important for me to reiterate to them early on that this is their team, it’s their time. It’s an opportunity for me to be a part of it.

“I’m still going to be myself. I think that’s what we all want, is for me to come back and approach it that way. But even early on with those guys, I constantly — whether it was Sean (Lee), Dak (Prescott), different players along the way, Zeke (Elliott) — I always tried to empower, even though I was the elder statesman on the team.”

The Cowboys are certainly happy to have him back.

“Just a good guy – great guy to be around, great guy to have in the locker room,” Prescott said. “And I know he’s excited about the direction we’re going in. It’s only going to make this team and this organization better.”

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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.