In a move that shocked both the media and football worlds, Jason Witten has announced that he will not return to ESPN for the 2019 Monday Night Football season. Instead he will end his retirement and rejoin the Dallas Cowboys.
Witten made eleven Pro Bowls during his initial 15-year run with the Cowboys, and in a statement he said that he couldn’t resist at least one more season.
“The fire inside of me to compete and play this game is just burning too strong,” said Witten. He was also quick to point out that despite largely negative reviews for his first season in the booth, ESPN was not pressuring him to find a new job.
“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.”
Dallas has three tight ends under contract, so while you could argue that Witten doesn’t fill a pressing need, he is certainly an upgrade over the team’s current options. For Witten, there are some career milestones within site. He currently sits fourth on the NFL’s all-time receptions list with 1152. He is also second in receiving yards amongst all tight ends, about 2700 yards behind Tony Gonzales.
As for ESPN, they have some options for what to do about the opening this creates in the Monday Night Football booth. As Andrew Marchand reported earlier this week, the network is said to have strong interest in Greg Olsen. He is currently a member of the Carolina Panthers, but has explored his broadcasting options each of the last two off-seasons.
Booger McFarland could move into the booth. The Booger Mobile, the mobile broadcast perch that gave McFarland a view from above the sidelines last season, was the topic of much conversation, very little of it good. Moving McFarland into the booth alongside Joe Tessitore would create a more traditional set up for ESPN.
One other option could be making another run at Peyton Manning. The two-time Super Bowl champ was ESPN’s top target in 2018 after Jon Gruden announced he was returning to coaching. While those negotiations ultimately did not pan out, there was no report of bad blood or animosity. It isn’t out of the question that ESPN might try again and Manning is certainly the option that would create the biggest splash.