February 28, 2019 / 6:59 PM / 7 months ago

TE Witten ends retirement, will return to Cowboys

Jason Witten agreed to a contract Thursday to rejoin the Dallas Cowboys for the 2019 season, the team announced.

FILE PHOTO: Dallas Cowboys Jason Witten holds the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award after it was presented to him during the NFL Honors award show in New Orleans, Louisiana February 2, 2013. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes

Witten, 36, made a surprise retirement announcement last spring and joined ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” booth for the 2018 season.

But the tight end, who is ranked fourth all-time in receptions and was destined for the Hall of Fame in five years, has put that enshrinement on hold to return to Dallas for a 16th NFL season.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted that Witten has agreed to a one-year, $3.5 million contract. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported via Twitter that the deal could be worth $5 million with incentives.

“The fire inside of me to compete and play this game is just burning too strong,” Witten said in a news release issued by the Cowboys. “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.”

The (Fort Worth) Star-Telegram reported that Witten isn’t likely to play more than 25 snaps per game.

Schefter reported Thursday that Witten started to debate a return to the Cowboys during the 2018 regular season. Despite frequent criticism of Witten’s work alongside Joe Tessitore in the broadcast booth, ESPN had committed to his return in 2019. He had a four-year deal with the network.

“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. In the coming weeks we will determine our MNF plans for the 2019 season.”

A third-round pick in the 2003 draft from Tennessee, Witten has played only for the Cowboys. He is a two-time first-team All-Pro and an 11-time Pro Bowl selection.

The 6-foot-6, 263-pound Witten has 1,152 career receptions and 68 touchdowns, He had a career-best 110 receptions in 2012, setting an NFL record for receptions in a season by a tight end. He had 18 catches in a game during the 2012 season, also an NFL record for a tight end.

His list of Cowboys records is plentiful, including career receptions, receiving yards and most consecutive seasons with a reception. His 68 receiving TDs are third most in Cowboys history.

A potential replacement for Witten in the TV booth is Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, who reportedly has been pursued by both FOX and ESPN. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said Thursday that Olsen “has told me he wants to play” in 2019, however.

—Field Level Media

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