Jason Witten was adamant after the final regular-season game in Philadelphia last season that he was returning to the Cowboys for a 16th season. The tight end repeated his vow to return during Super Bowl week, declaring he could continue playing at a Pro Bowl level.
As recently as April 17, Witten said he had no interest in a TV job and wanted to play until he was 40. He joked with a reporter the Tuesday before the draft, asking why the reporter was “trying to put me out to pasture.”
After spending more than a week at the team’s voluntary offseason workouts, Witten announced his retirement Thursday in an emotional press conference.
“I think with opportunities that changes it,” Witten said when asked what changed his mind. “Look, I always knew where I was at in my career. I mean, I knew the demands and what I had to do every day, day in and day out and I was committed to doing that. I did not think that was going to be my last game in Philadelphia there. But I think when you go through that process, and I was certain when I went through it, I wanted the blessing of Jerry and his family. The opportunity that I have to stay around the game. No man really leaves on his terms and it was just an opportunity. When you’re in those moments, those other things didn’t really exist. I think that had a lot to do with it.”
Witten never mentioned his new job at ESPN in his hour-long press conference, but ESPN released a statement that Witten will join Monday Night Football next season.
“We want to congratulate Jason Witten on a Hall-of-Fame caliber career with the Dallas Cowboys and we are thrilled to welcome him to ESPN and Monday Night Football,” Connor Schell, ESPN executive vice president of content said in a statement. “Jason’s passion, his insight, and his ability to clearly communicate his knowledge of the game thoroughly impressed us. He has all the potential to be an exceptional analyst and we can’t wait to get started.”
Still, it was a hard decision for Witten after the offer presumably came last week.
“I don’t know that anybody knows when it’s their time to go. I certainly did not,” Witten said. “It was emotional. I never thought about that day. Certainly didn’t think about it as I was preparing for my 16th season. But I just through a lot of counsel, right here with the guy to the left of me and the guy to the right of me and my family. Certainly, it was a difficult time.
“I shared with Jerry [Jones] the other day, I got to the edge of the cliff in the last 72 hours and really longer than that and really couldn’t jump. I’m excited. I’m really excited. I think more than anything else I know the standard and expectation of the way I wanted to play and how I do play, but I’m also excited for the next chapter of my life and the opportunities that I have.”