ESPN finally has their replacement for Jon Gruden on Monday Night Football. After courting Peyton Manning earlier this off-season, amid months of speculation as to who will join the telecast, future Hall-of-Fame tight-end Jason Witten has officially agreed to retire from the NFL and head to ESPN.
For the second straight season a prominent Dallas Cowboy will go directly from the field to the broadcast booth after quarterback Tony Romo made the jump to CBS last year. The news was first reported by Mike Greenberg on his morning television show Get Up. “It is now official. Jason Witten is retiring from the Dallas Cowboys and coming to work with us,” Greenberg said. “He will join ESPN as an analyst for Monday Night Football.”
Just a few weeks ago, Witten calmed the reports he could be leaving the Cowboys by expressing a desire to continue playing for a few more years. “There’s been a lot of things said over the years, especially the last few months,” Witten told Clarence Hill of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I guess that’s what happens when you get old. Maybe one day that will happen, but hopefully I can play until I’m 40 like some of these other guys. I’ll take it one day at a time. My plan is to be here with the Cowboys. Absolutely.”
While Witten could certainly play one or two more seasons in the NFL and expect a broadcast job to be available to him whenever he retires, he can’t count on an opportunity as high-profile as the Monday Night Football gig to wait for him.
During the off-season, Witten reworked his contract with the Cowboys, agreeing to a 4-year extension, but also taking an annual paycut, providing the team with more cap space. With reports of ESPN offering between $4 and $4.5 million to Witten, the former All-Pro tight end will earn more than double what he would’ve been paid by the Cowboys for the upcoming NFL season.
Witten was still a serviceable tight-end, but when an aging NFL player is presented with a more lucrative opportunity to join broadcasting, it’s hard to see them turning that down. Witten will step away from the football field healthy and on his own terms, joining play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore for ESPN’s coverage of Monday Night Football.