Just one year removed from retirement, Jason Witten has decided to leave Monday Night Football to do what he was born to do, compete on the gridiron. The future Hall of Famer, second only to Tony Gonzalez in TE receptions and reception yards, will dust off his cleats for at least one more year with America’s Team.
The Dallas Cowboys have released the following statement from Witten, ” The fire inside of me to compete and play this game is just burning too strong. 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”.
Witten will be 37 when the regular season starts for his 16th season. In 2017, Witten was a Pro Bowl selection with 63 catches for 560 yards and 5 touchdowns, starting all 16 games. His retirement after the season left the Cowboys with a question mark at the tight end position for the first time in 15 years.
The response was a tight end by committee with 4 tight ends, only one of which even had an NFL stat sheet prior to the 2018 season, in Geoff Swaim. All four tight ends (Gathers, Jarwin, Schultz, and Swaim) started at least 4 games in 2018, and combined had only 5 more receptions than Witten in 2017, and one less touchdown. With Geoff Swaim being an unrestricted free agent, and the other 3 salaries combined being less than $2 million for the 2019 season, it seems unlikely to see Swaim back in a Cowboys uniform.
The contract details for Witten have not been released yet, but he qualifies for a very cap friendly figure with veteran minimum benefits. The 2019 veteran minimum salary for players with 10 or more years of service is $1.03 million, with only about $650k of that counting against the cap. It is not known if this is the route that Witten and the Cowboys will go, or if he will be getting paid a salary closer to his $7.4 million salary for 2017. Seeing as he appears to be coming back more for a championship run rather than for money to pay off debts, the former seems much more likely.
Assuming that #82 is healthy and ready for another grueling NFL season, this will make the Cowboys offseason that much easier by being able to focus on other positions in free agency and also with the several looming contract extensions of Lawrence, Jones, Zeke, and Dak. This may also convince Sean Lee to make his 2019 salary more cap friendly for a team desperate for its first Super Bowl in 24 years.
Welcome back 82!