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How ‘Bout Those Cowboys? Witten Leaves ESPN For One Last Rodeo

Was it something we said, Jason?

Or was it something you didn’t say, that you should have said in the first place, before heading down a road you obviously didn’t care for very much?

If you haven’t heard, you won’t be hearing Jason Witten anymore in the ESPN’s Monday Night Football telecast booth. His one season in a necktie and sportscoat was all he could stomach.

Instead, Witten, a certifiable Hall of Fame tight end, is returning to the places he loves – the Dallas Cowboys. To play tackle football. And he is doing it for a nice chunk of change, a one-year $3.5 million deal.

Obviously, Witten didn’t get what he wanted out of broadcasting, unlike the other former Cowboys – Tony Romo, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin – who have transferred seamlessly from headgear to headset.

And now he steps right back into the middle of a Cowboys offense that missed him while he was gone.  How could it not? Witten has played in 11 Pro Bowls and become the franchise leader in receptions (1,152) and receiving yards. He also has 68 touchdowns.

He also played in more games (239), played in more consecutive games (236), started more games (229) and started more consecutive games (179) than any player in Cowboys history.

Roger Staubach, Jason Witten, Troy Aikman, and Roger Goodell

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

“The fire inside of me to compete and play this game is just burning too strong,” Witten said in a statement. “This team has a great group of rising young stars, and I want to help them make a run at a championship. This was completely my decision, and I am very comfortable with it. I’m looking forward to getting back in the dirt.”

If anyone should be uncomfortable about this it might be Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. ESPN was conjecturing about those within earshot of owner Jerry Jones, maybe even Jones himself, who see Witten as a future NFL head coach. He’ll already have a keycard to get into the building if that happens in Dallas while he is still there.

“We thank Jason for his many contributions to Monday Night Football and to ESPN over the past year and wish him continued success,” ESPN said in a statement. “We have seen many former coaches and players go into broadcasting before eventually returning to the game they love, so we understand Jason’s desire to return to the Dallas Cowboys.”

Really, what else were they going to say? ESPN is right. Coaches leave broadcasting all the time to return to the sidelines. The booth is little more than a holding pen until something too good to pass up comes up.

It’s just not every day that you see a player step out and step back in. And like we said at the top, it’s not like Witten was totally convinced he wanted the job before deciding to sign a four-year deal with ESPN. And once he got there, he wasn’t as engaging as Jon Gruden, the man he replaced. Whitten dropped a few passes in his rookie season.

Two examples: Witten took some ribbing for once referring to NFL rule changes as “left wing.” And there a few guffaws when after watching Aaron Rodgers do something spectacular he shouted, “He pulls another rabbit out of his head!”

In late November, an ESPN executive responded to a question about Witten’s development as an analyst.

“We knew this would not be an overnight sensation, and I do believe he is getting better and better,” producer Jay Rothman said. “We just ask for a little patience.”

In December, there was even some speculation the Cowboys were trying to convince Witten to return. Just two weeks ago, Witten was asked again if he planned on returning to the game.

“I don’t think we’re going to. … I don’t know where that is,” said Witten before adding he “missed the heck out of playing.

“Look, every day I was a part of the Cowboys, and even before that, I loved the game of football. I loved the process of it. I loved March. I loved training camp. I loved getting better and adversity and going through it with [the] guys, that shared commitment part of it. Nothing can replace that feeling and I knew that.”

One of the first things that comes to our mind: Does he have to give back the diamond-covered football Jones gave him and his family after he caught 63 passes for 560 yards and five TDs in 2017? Something like that is hard to replace in the trophy case.

All kidding aside, Witten, 37, is a great player and the Cowboys are exponentially better with him on the field. Dalton Schultz, the team’s fourth-round draft pick in 2018, played in seven games after Geoff Swaim broke his wrist. But Blake Jarwin led the Cowboy tight ends with 27 receptions for 307 yards and three TDs.

Ask yourself, would the Cowboys rather play him or a guy who comes into the 2019 fifth all-time in receiving yards (12,448) among players who have spent their careers with just one team?