Jason Witten has decided to end his retirement after just one season. He will return to the Dallas Cowboys in 2019, playing his 16th NFL season. The Cowboys announced the decision on Twitter on Thursday afternoon.
"The fire inside of me to compete and play this game is just burning too strong," Witten said in a statement, per the Cowboys' official website. "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 retired last offseason after 15 seasons, during which he recorded 1,152 career receptions, which ranks fourth in NFL history. He spent the 2018 season as an analyst for ESPN's "Monday Night Football" broadcasts, working alongside Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland.
The Cowboys replaced Witten last season with a committee of tight ends including Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, and Rico Gathers. Their offense struggled for much of the season until they swung a big trade for former Raiders wideout Amari Cooper, after which the team took off and ultimately won the NFC East and its first-round playoff game against the Seahawks.
Bringing Witten back for another season is an interesting move for the Cowboys. Their committee of tight ends produced 68 catches for 710 yards and four touchdowns last season, numbers that compare favorable to the 63-560-5 line Witten posted during what was previously thought to be his final season as well as his 69-673-3 line from 2016. And they did it for far less money than Witten cost them, or than he will cost them next year, no matter which of the following reports proves accurate.
Cowboys are giving their former and new tight end Jason Witten a one-year, $3.5 million contract, per sources.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 28, 2019
The Cowboys have also been talking a lot this offseason about how they want to make big changes to their offense in order to be more creative and take advantage of space, which Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett believe new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore can do. Witten does not exactly fit with that type of plan, especially considering he played in Garrett's offense for most of his career and even at his peak was a slow, unathletic player who got by on guile and instinct more than any kind of physical advantages. This is also considered one of the deeper tight end draft classes in a while, and the Cowboys could have found a long-term replacement for Witten with one of their mid-round picks. Instead, they're bringing back a blast from the past for (at least) one more go-round.
Dallas has a good deal of cap space available this offseason to add to its roster but has already publicly declared its intention to find long-term deals for DeMarcus Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Ezekiel Elliott. The first three are likely to happen this offseason while Elliott's may wait until next year. That will eat into most of their space, as will a multi-million dollar deal for Witten. They might still have enough room left over to make a long-rumored move for Earl Thomas, but they also might not be interested in his price.
It is unknown at this point whether ESPN will begin a search for someone who will replace Witten or if they will merely move McFarland into the booth with Tessitore from his perch on the sideline.