Dallas Cowboys

The NFL told Witten he had to give up his old helmet. Will he pull an Antonio Brown?

Jason Witten will retire for a second time, but it’s not going to be today and it will not be over a helmet.

The Cowboys veteran tight end has a helmet that he prefers, and as much as he does not want to let it go, he doesn’t have much choice.

Witten has no plans to pull an Antonio Brown.

“I received a letter from the league when I came back that I could not use my old (helmet),” Witten said after Cowboys’ practice on Monday. “I went with the new one. We tried a lot out. It’s hard, you know? That (old helmet) is a part of me.

“This is the new one, and I’ll wear it.”

The issue of the new helmet has become an issue because of Oakland Raiders wide receiver Antonio Brown. The veteran receiver has reportedly threatened to retire if the NFL does not allow him to use his old helmet, a model that does not meet the new standard specifications designed to improve player safety.

Per NFL rules, a player can’t practice or play with equipment that is not approved. If he does, it’s a breach of contract.

These rules are collectively bargained between the league and the NFL Player’s Association.

Brown filed a grievance against the NFL to wear his old helmet; an arbitrator reportedly ruled against Brown, meaning he has no choice. So he will play with the old version or quit.

Brown tweeted that he plans to return to the Raiders and his teammates.

Witten may agree with Brown in principle, but not enough to make it a point of contention.

Equipment mandates and modifications in specifications are an annual event in the NFL; some of it’s done for the sake of change, while modifying a helmet is about player safety.

The NFL is doggedly trying to improve player safety, specifically as it relates to concussions, for multiple reasons. The league doesn’t want people scared away from playing, or watching, the sport.

A helmet for a football player is akin to a bat or a glove for a baseball player. Players have their preferences, and their helmet, that they like and want to use. A player is no different than any other human being in that they like what they like, and change is not always welcome.

“There are certain helmets I don’t like and won’t wear. It’s a comfort thing,” Cowboys veteran running back Alfred Morris said. “Every so many years they do an upgraded version and I get that one. As long as it’s fine, I don’t care. It protects my head.

“The new one is fine, it does its job. ... If you are a veteran, you do have a little bit more say and a little bit more pull than a young guy. At the same time, would I throw a hissy fit about it? No. If they say it’s outdated and I can’t wear it, I have to move on. I know it’s a comfort thing but don’t make a stink. But that’s me.”

Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said his players have embraced the updated version of the helmets.

“The reasons why the league wants everybody to do that are pretty obvious, it’s about player safety. If you go to the NFL owners meetings like we do every March, the No. 1 topic by far, by far, we talk about it 95 percent of the time when you’re there, is player safety,” Garrett said. “What equipment we’re wearing, what rules we have in the game, how we can alter those things to make the players’ environment more safe.

“I think the league has done a great job advancing that cause over the last number of years. I just think the helmet situation is understandable. Everybody likes their old pair of cleats, everybody likes their old shoulder pads, their old helmet, but I think the evidence is overwhelming. We presented that to our players and everybody has responded accordingly.”

Well ... maybe not everybody.

DALLAS COWBOYS LINEBACKER OUT

Garrett said that Nebraska rookie free agent linebacker Luke Gifford will not practice this week and will not “for a couple of weeks, at least.”

Gifford sustained a high ankle sprain in the first half of the Cowboys’ preseason loss against the 49ers on Saturday night. He was enjoying a strong camp, and had an interception in the game.

Garrett also said receiver Cedrick Wilson suffered a concussion in the game against San Francisco and that he is being monitored.

On Monday, the Cowboys held out 20 players from practice. As a result, they reduced practice time by about 30 minutes.

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Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.
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