Jason Witten announced his retirement from the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL one year ago on Friday, which now forces us to ask the question: What are we supposed to do when he retires again?
The answer is easy: Nothing.
Selfishly, I hate this. I don’t want to see Jason Witten as anything other than the Baddest Tight End in Town trucking linebackers and safeties.
I don’t want to see Jason Witten leaving the game looking old. I don’t want to see football break Jason Witten.
It was one year ago on May 3, 2018 that the Cowboys tight end became “John Wayne,” and rode off into an ESPN booth complete with a full head of hair.
The Cowboys’ front office greeted Witten’s arrival to the headquarters for the retirement ceremony in Frisco with the reception befitting Prince Harry and Meghan. Every person on the Cowboys’ roster who was in town, which was nearly every major player, appeared for this press conference.
Coach Jason Garrett delivered a speech where he had to stop to take a drink of water to swallow back the weakness drops that can form in eyes that manly-man football coaches normally don’t experience.
Witten spoke candidly, and his voice cracked like a rock through glass.
“The hardest part of this decision was knowing I’d never be able to hand you that Lombardi Trophy,” Witten told Jerry Jones. “I told you back in 2006 I would not let you down; I hope in your eyes I held up my end of the bargain.”
And after 40 minutes, a 15-year career was done.
Every word that was said, and every sentence that was structured for Witten was meant. No one could say a bad word about him because none fit.
You only get that once. The next time he retires, he will be just another guy who left ball because ball kicked him out. Just another guy for whom the ball tolls.
At the time Witten retired, he looked like a guy that left on his own rather than being evicted. He left no images of a guy who played one game too many.
Most guys who play seldom leave on their own terms; the game tells them it’s over.
Nolan Ryan once told Roger Clemens not to quit until the game tells you to stop. No mention of whether The Express advised The Rocket to extend his career with a bucket of steroids.
Had the gig with ESPN worked better, Witten would not have un-retired and returned to the Dallas Cowboys for one more year. Had any of the tight ends on the Cowboys roster looked as if they were developing into a legit No. 1 caliber option, the Cowboys would likely have said thanks but no thanks.
But Jason Witten didn’t take to the booth like his good friend Tony Romo. The Cowboys don’t think any of their options at tight end are upgrades over Witten in the present.
In his absence, no one was able to run the Y-option pattern that made him so valuable as an escape valve receiver from Romo to Dak Prescott. Dak missed Witten more than any player.
One year later, Jason Witten went out as John Wayne and now he is back to a team that is no longer his.
Every teammate is happy that Witten is back, but this locker room and his place atop the roster hierarchy are gone. He’s a veteran trying to make the team.
I don’t want to think of, or see, Jason Witten as either.
By retiring last year, our last images of Jason Witten were that of an older, but effective, tight end who could still ball without a helmet. All of his numbers were dropping, but he could run a route and catch a pass. He could block a tank.
He was hardly an embarrassment.
That’s how I want to remember Jason Witten. By unretiring, our last images of one of the best players in the history of the Dallas Cowboys will change.
The only way Jason Witten improves his pristine legacy is to hand a Lombardi to Jerry.