Jason Witten: All-around class act

Entering retirement, the Dallas Cowboys tight end will be tough to replace on and off the field.

(Photo Credit: USA Today via Reuters/Matthew Emmons)

The speculation had been there; now it’s official. Tight end Jason Witten, the Dallas Cowboys’ all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards, has retired and will become an analyst for ESPN’s Monday Night Football, as first reported by the network.

Witten, who ranks fourth all-time with 1,152 receptions, totaled 12,448 yards, 68 touchdowns and made 11 Pro Bowls in 15 seasons for Dallas. Though Witten never won a Super Bowl with the Cowboys, he’ll have a spot in the team’s Ring of Honor and could be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

What Witten did on the field was a dream individual career, especially at a position that tended to fly under the radar everywhere except places like New England or San Diego, and, of course, Dallas. By all accounts, Witten was an even better person off the field, especially in the locker room.

Heck of a guy

According to the ESPN report, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Witten is one of the five best people he’s known in the league. That’s saying something. Witten, the 2012 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, was an undisputed leader and commanded respect without being brash or bossy.

While former bigger-name Dallas teammates such as Terrell Owens, Dez Bryant and Ezekiel Elliott often made headlines for the wrong reasons, Witten, professionally and respectfully, went about his business and was a positive ambassador for one of the most recognizable sports franchises on the planet.

Still in the spotlight

Witten, who turns 36 on Sunday, liked to do his talking on the field. But with little hesitation, he will now do it in the Monday Night Football booth for ESPN, which needed to fill its analyst spot after Jon Gruden took the head coaching job in Oakland.

Witten heads down the same path as former Cowboys’ teammate Tony Romo, who retired in 2017 to join the No. 1 NFL broadcast crew for CBS. One of the best quarterback-to-tight end combos in Cowboys’ history join a long list of former Dallas players like Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders and Don Meredith to make broadcasting a second career.

How ‘bout them Cowboys?

Signs of Witten’s decline, especially as a focal point in Dallas’ offense was clear of late. His 63 receptions and 560 receiving yards last season were each the second-fewest of his career.

With Witten gone, the Cowboys, for the time being, have a serious hole at tight end with Rico Gathers and Geoff Swaim next up on the depth chart and fourth-round pick Dalton Schultz also in the mix. Swaim is only the member of that group with a career reception.

Perhaps an even bigger issue is who will be the Cowboys’ next leader? In his third season, is Dak Prescott ready for that role? Is it possible Elliott can ever mature to such a level or does it fall on one of Dallas’ talented linemen like Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick or Zack Martin?

Only time will tell. In the meantime, let’s celebrate Witten—the player and person.

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