OXNARD, Calif. – Jason Witten is out of retirement.
Many Cowboys fans never believed he would leave the sport -- at least, not last year. After a storied 15-year career in which he cemented himself as one of the best tight ends in NFL history, Witten was primed to make a seamless transition from the football field to the broadcast booth as the newest member of the Monday Night Football team.
But that was last year.
After a year of mixed reviews as a commentator, Witten decided it was in his best interests to return to the field of play at the ripe old age of 37.
“Life has a crazy way of going sometimes,” said Witten. “It’s a winding road. I’m very fortunate this organization has given me this opportunity. I’ve got a lot to prove.”
That’s hard to hear from an 11-time Pro Bowler and future Hall of Famer, but that's one of the main reasons Witten has chosen to come out of retirement.
He feels he can still improve.
“There is always this point in time that hits a player, where they say, 'I’ve got this figured out. I can take the next step as a player.' I sense that,” Witten said.
Head coach Jason Garrett was not surprised that Witten returned to the NFL.
"I know how much he loves the game and how hard it was for him to make that decision in the first place," Garrett said. "He's just one of those guys that has football in the core of his being. In his heart, he had left a little meat on the bone. He felt like he left a little bit early. He listened to his heart and said he would come back and continue this. He's had a great offseason. He's an unbelievable example, an incredible leader and has such a positive impact on our team far beyond his production on the field. He's a special guy and we're lucky to have him."
Aside from personal improvement, another motivating factor in Witten's decision is the belief that this young nucleus is capable of going farther than any Cowboys team since 1996 -- to the NFC Championship Game and maybe the Super Bowl. Quarterback Dak Prescott is one of the most important members of that nucleus, and Witten likes what he's seen from the 26-year old gunslinger.
"The intangibles that he has as a leader are unlike anything I’ve ever seen," said Witten. "Everybody respects him. They want to play for him. As a player, with his confidence in this system and all the little things he’s working on to improve his game, I expect an incredible year for him. He is the leader of this football team."
Based on last year's production, Dallas was not in need of another tight end. The team used a rotation of Blake Jarwin, Geoff Swaim and Dalton Schultz to replace Witten's production in 2018. Jarwin arguably made the biggest impact, catching 27 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns. Having a veteran like Witten on the roster should help the development of all the young tight ends on the Cowboys' roster. But if the 37-year old is unable to produce on the field, there's a chance his presence could hurt more than it helps.
“There’s a lot of questions about what I can do and rightfully so,” Witten said. “Anytime you pick the road I’ve taken, people don’t know what to expect, not that I’m motivated by that. I think that’s a hell of a challenge for me to kind of be able to go out there. Look, it’s a 'show me' game and you’ve got to be able to show it.”