Cowboys' Jason Witten will decide quickly on future, possible retirement: 'This game's meant so much to me'

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Jason Witten era may soon be over, again. The world will know in short order what the future Hall of Fame tight end will decide as it relates to his future with the Dallas Cowboys and NFL as a whole, but it's clear he's considering both sides of the coin following elimination from playoff contention despite a hollow victory over the Washington Redskins in Week 17.

A disappointed Witten had a strong message for fans of "America's Team" as he packed up his locker for the final time this season, and with no promise he'd ever do it again. 

"I'm going to start off by just saying I apologize to the Dallas Cowboys fans out there," he said. "I came back to try to help this football team try and compete for a championship, and we found out [on Sunday] that we won't have that opportunity. That hurts. It's hard, but it's a heck of a year for me -- to be able to come back and play this game."

The 37-year-old initially hung up his cleats following the conclusion of the 2017 season, wherein the Cowboys also failed to make the playoffs, going on to follow in the footsteps of former quarterback and current best friend Tony Romo -- landing a lead role as a color commentator, but for ESPN's "Monday Night Football" as opposed to CBS Sports. Witten's inaugural year in the broadcasting booth was more or less a disaster, and he openly admitted after stepping down to return to the Cowboys that "it sucked," so it's doubtful he'll attempt to jump back into the role as a television analyst should he call it a career for a second time in three seasons.

Things started promising in his return to Dallas, with the team blasting off to a 3-0 start before the wheels began to fall off over the remainder of the season. And while Witten looked physically as stout as he ever did, his performance on the field was the most inconsistent it's been in his otherwise stellar NFL career. The 11-time Pro Bowler suffered several key drops and more than a missed blocking assignment or two, those deficiencies marrying to impact plays that also saw him make timely possession catches and touchdown grabs, and in circus fashion on at least one occasion.

His 529 yards receiving is a respectable mark, but it's also the second lowest of his 16-year career, behind only his rookie season.

"I was proud of the way I was able to play all year," Witten said. "It's never perfect, and there's always plays that I want to have back. To be a part of this team, to be one of the 53, in this franchise and have an opportunity to compete for a division and have a chance to go to the playoffs, that was something that motivated me every day when I woke up to go to work -- to make myself better, make this football team better, to make my teammates better. Those young guys, it was great to work with them every day and be a mentor to them, and we came up short. It's a 'show me' game."

Unfortunately for Witten, the only thing the Cowboys showed in his return is how they can be their own worst enemy.

"It's a hard game," he noted. "And we had our opportunities. Unfortunately, we didn't get them. I'll take a few days and figure out what's next."

He has zero regrets suiting back up, though.

"As I said to you guys a year ago when I retired -- to have the opportunity for 16 seasons to put on the helmet and run on that field, with a star on our helmet, that's an opportunity of a lifetime," Witten said. "And I'm so thankful to everyone in the organization, starting with the Jones family, for that opportunity and one of the best decisions I've ever made was listening to my gut to come back and play. And sure, that decision can be picked apart a million different ways, but I'm really proud of the way I played and I love this game. 

"This game's meant so much to me."

One of the aforementioned young guys is Blake Jarwin, who wraps his third year with the club and second with Witten in the mix. 

With the Cowboys so keenly intent on making sure Witten the top tight end in the room, Jarwin was forced to take a back seat, and despite having proven himself one of the best offensive playmakers on the team. Whatever Witten decides to do next will have a massive impact on Jarwin in 2020, but no matter the call, he's thrilled to have learned under one of the greatest players in NFL history.

"I'm not sure what Witten's decision is, but I'm going to respect it either way," Jarwin said. "If he's back, great. I'll get another year to learn under the guy." 

Witten currently remains the franchise's all-time leader in receiving yards with 12,977, but fell one touchdown shy of tying the Cowboys' all-time touchdown mark of 73. While the team mulls its decision on Jason Garrett and others within the coaching staff, it will soon have its decision from Witten for 2020, and it will likely be tied to what happens with Garrett.

Ultimately, all things told, this offseason could see one of the biggest shakeups in Cowboys history.

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