Jason Witten is coming out of retirement and rejoining the Dallas Cowboys after one season as a television analyst.
The 36-year-old Witten says the “fire inside of me to compete and play this game is just burning too strong.” The Cowboys announced Thursday that the 11-time Pro Bowl tight end has agreed to a one-year contract. The deal is worth about $5 million.
When he retired last May to become the lead analyst for “Monday Night Football,” Witten shared the club record with three others at 15 seasons with Dallas. Now he’s poised to add that franchise mark to the list of records he already has in games, starts, catches and yards receiving.
“This team has a great group of rising young stars, and I want to help them make a run at a championship,” Witten said. “This was completely my decision, and I am very comfortable with it.”
Witten and Tony Gonzalez are the only NFL tight ends with at least 1,000 catches and 10,000 yards. Gonzalez was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first try this year. Witten is postponing consideration of his date with Canton.
The return of Witten gives quarterback Dak Prescott another run with one of his most trusted targets months after the Cowboys won their first playoff game with the 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and two-time NFL rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott.
Dallas struggled at tight end without Witten. Geoff Swaim was the most productive before his season ended with a broken wrist after 10 games. Blake Jarwin tied a club record for touchdown catches by a tight end with three in the regular-season finale against the New York Giants. Those were all three of Jarwin’s touchdowns as he had 27 catches for 307 yards. Swaim had 26 catches for 242 yards with one TD.
Swaim got the bulk of the playing time before his injury because of his ability as a blocker, whereas the Cowboys believed Jarwin needed to work on that part of his game.
With Witten, the Cowboys get back someone coach Jason Garrett believes is one of the best two-way tight ends in NFL history. The return comes nine months after an emotional farewell ceremony at team headquarters.
“We thank Jason for his many contributions to “Monday Night Football” and to ESPN over the past year and wish him continued success,” the network 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.”
Witten weathered some criticism in his first season with ESPN, but kept saying he was committed to improving and sticking with broadcasting. But the Cowboys returned to the playoffs after missing the season before he stepped away.
Dallas beat Seattle in the wild-card round for the first postseason victory with Prescott and Elliott. The Cowboys lost a divisional game to the Los Angeles Rams, making it 23 straight seasons without a trip to the NFC championship game since the last of the franchise’s five Super Bowl titles following the 1995 season.
Witten’s return also comes with the pressure on Garrett to get the Cowboys deeper in the postseason in the final year of his contract. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones so far hasn’t given Garrett another extension coming off a third playoff trip in five years.