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Football experts have already predicted that retired NFL tight end Jason Witten will be a first ballot Hall-of-Famer.
Regardless of that and despite already being employed as the color commentator for Monday Night Football (MNF), Witten, the 11x Pro Bowler, has decided to end his yearlong retirement and play once again for his Dallas Cowboys.
Here we examine Witten’s journey from being a retired player and television analyst to returning to the NFL gridiron for a final run at the elusive Lombardi Trophy, as well as list the odds and predictions of who will replace him in the MNF booth now that he’s gone.
It’s actually Christopher Jason Witten, and he’s 36 years old, stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 265-pounds.
Witten currently has a wife named Michelle who is an emergency nurse in Dallas and four young children, two sons and two daughters.
Originally hailing from Elizabethton, Tennessee, Witten was honored by his hometown when they dubbed June 21, 2013 “Jason Witten Day” because of his many accomplishments on and off the football field.
Yes, Jason’s father was a 6-foot-8, 300-pound alcoholic man who would lose his temper often and physically abuse Witten’s mother and older brothers.
As a result, when he was 11-years-old, Witten moved to Elizabethton to live with his grandparents.
As luck would have it, Jason’s grandfather was the head coach of the high school football team.
Witten played linebacker and tight end as a three-year starter at Elizabethton High School, as well as played basketball where he averaged 15 points and 12 rebounds per game.
In his senior year, Witten finished the football season All-American and All-State, winning multiple Player of the Year awards with impressive stats on both sides of the ball.
As a linebacker he had 163 tackles, nine sacks, two interceptions, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and two blocked kicks, and as a tight end he had 26 catches and 14 touchdowns.
Witten received a scholarship to play football at the University of Tennessee as a defensive end, though his freshman year he mostly played special teams and second-string defensive end.
His Junior year, though, Witten exploded and set records for tight end receptions (39) and receiving yards (493) with five touchdowns, receiving All-SEC and Academic All-SEC honors, as well.
After his junior season, Witten entered the NFL draft in 2003 and was selected in the third round (69th pick overall) by the Dallas Cowboys, who had given him a first-round draft grade but had used the first and second rounds to fill bigger needs.
His career numbers and awards speak for themselves, ranking him as a top-ten all time NFL tight end and a surefire first ballot shoe-in for the NFL Hall-of-Fame on many experts’ lists.
In 239 games, Witten caught 1,152 balls for 12,488 yards and 68 touchdowns, averaging 10.8 yards per catch.
Witten was a 2x First-team All-Pro, and an 11x Pro Bowler as well as the recipient of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award in 2012.
Also, Witten broke plenty of NFL records, including most receptions in a single game by a tight end (18), as well as plenty of Dallas Cowboys records, including most career receptions, receiving yards and games played.
In the 15 seasons that Witten played in the NFL, he only missed one game, and that was because of a broken jaw in his rookie season that left him so underweight the following week he snuck rolls of coins into his sweatpants to make sure he made weight so he could play.
In his career, of the 224 games that Witten could have played in, he took the field in 223 of them, and that’s despite various injuries to his ankles and knees and jaw that would have kept most player from suiting up.
Defensive end Jeremy Mincey, who has the utmost respect for Witten, called him a “certified war daddy,” meaning he goes out and plays hard with passion and desire every time, which his teammates respected and adored.
After fifteen NFL seasons, Witten retired from the NFL on May 3, 2018.
At that time, he confirmed the rumors that he had accepted a position as the lead analyst for ESPN’s Monday Night Football telecasts.
During his first year of broadcasting, Witten and his new MNF crew Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland had to endure quite a bit of complaints on social media, including this one by Andy Glockner that seems to sum it all up:
Not very hot take: Tessitore overtalks incessantly, and both new MNF analysts are bad-to-very-bad.
— Orchids of Peja (@AndyGlockner) October 23, 2018
No, and Witten has stated that the pursuit of a championship is a major reason he wants to return for at least another season.
In Witten’s fifteen NFL seasons, the Cowboys went to the playoffs six times, but the farthest they have gotten is the Divisional playoffs, where they lost four different times.
When Witten was drafted by the Cowboys in 2003, the team hadn’t been in or won a Super Bowl in eight seasons, their most recent victory having been in Super Bowl XXX against the Green Bay Packers in 1995.
According to a credible site that tracks athletes’ earnings, Witten earned $72.8 million over the course of his fifteen-year career.
Only two other tight ends in the history of the league have hit the $70 million mark, and they are Tony Gonzalez ($72.7 million) and Vernon Davis ($70 million).
Antonio Gates is next, having earned a $68.5 million.
After watching the Cowboys lose in the 2018-19 Divisional playoff game from the broadcast booth, middle-aged tight end Jason Witten announced his return to the Dallas Cowboys on February 28, 2109.
In a release, Witten explained why he came to the decision to end his retirement:
“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.”
The Dallas Cowboys signed Witten for a one-year deal reportedly worth $3.5 million, bringing his career total up to $76.3 million.
In March of 2017 before retiring, Witten and the Cowboys had signed a four-year contract extension that would have been good through the 2021 season.
That contract ended, however, with his first official retirement in 2018.
Age is a funny thing in the NFL – not enough of it and you lack the experience required to survive in such a high-level league, and too much of it and you’re considered damaged goods with a limited remaining shelf life.
In the case of tight ends, they are said to be most successful between the ages of 25 and 26.
Witten will be 37 next season, but he’s had an entire year of non-contact sitting in a broadcast booth to let his body heal entirely, though whether it’s in ‘NFL condition’ remains to be seen.
Sure, there are some prime examples of athletes successfully doing what Witten is now attempting.
George Foreman is a classic one: he came back to boxing at 38 and at 45 knocked out Michael Moorer to become the oldest heavyweight champion ever.
Of course, Michael Jordan is the best example: retired from the NBA in 1993 to play pro baseball, then came back to the NBA to win three more titles.
Ryne Sandberg, Marshawn Lynch, Roger Clemens and Justine Henin are further proof that certain high-level athletes maintain their pro-level potential even after retirement.
Now Witten is hoping that after next season he’ll make that same list, and do it while holding the Lombardi Trophy with a Super Bowl ring on his 37-year-old finger.
This is a more complicated bet than it sounds, since there is a good chance that the entire MNF crew is going to be let go and replaced by three more newbies.
Regardless of that, some former player or coach will be hired as the lead analyst, and some names and associated odds have already been tossed around.
Here’s the list of candidates and their odds of success – good luck.
The former Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is the odds on favorite so far, especially after his successful experience on ESPN’s weekly “Detail” podcast.
The handsome former NFL safety Louis Riddick has the next best shot, already an on-air talent for ESPN since 2013.
After suffering a 2018 season-ending ruptured plantar fascia, many experts suspect that Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen may retire and move to the broadcast booth full time.
Hall-of-fame quarterback KurtWarner deserves to be on this list, especially given he’s already covered MNF as the full-time radio analyst for Westwood One radio.
Retired Pro-Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselback would be an excellent choice who is already embedded at ESPN as one of the hosts of their Sunday NFL Countdown show.
Talk about a player that knows all about retiring and coming back again, 6x Pro Bowl wider receiver Randy Moss has big odds against him, but that’s something the 5-team traveling man is entirely used to.
The retired Pro-Bowl quarterback is already all over the airwaves on CBS’ NFL Today, Inside the NFL on Showtime and Boomer and Gio on WFAN radio, so he’s a long shot to give all that up to take the MNF gig.
Another long shot, Super Bowl champion quarterback Steve Young might already be too busy with his business (managing director of Huntsman Gay Global Capital) and acting (TV and Film credits include: Frasier and There’s Something About Mary) careers to take on the MNF position.
The NFL quarterback who became a verb after players and fans began “Tim Tebowing” (kneeling on one knee in prayer) after their accomplishments is a very long shot for the MNF job, but since he’s already in the middle of an ESPN contract for covering college football games he’s worth considering.
Anybody who loves football knows John Madden’s name, but the retired Super Bowl champion head coach and seasoned broadcaster is probably too old to maintain the schedule and too afraid to fly to do the MNF job once again.
Mike Lukas is a retired standup comedian turned freelance writer now living in Dallas, Texas, originally from Cleveland, Ohio. His love for the game of football and all things Cleveland Browns turned Mike into a pro blogger years ago. Now Mike enjoys writing about all thirty-two NFL teams, hoping to help football gamblers gain a slight edge in their pursuit of the perfect wager. Email: [email protected]More info on Mike Lukas
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