Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten plans to retire after 15 seasons and join ESPN as its lead analyst for the Monday Night Football telecast, the network reported Friday.
Witten met with Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones, who said no announcement was coming Friday. Jones said he had several conversations with Witten this week and indicated the franchise leader in games, catches and yards receiving hadn’t made a final decision.
“He has some things to think about and discuss with his family from a professional perspective,” Jones said before the introductory news conference for first-round draft pick Leighton Vander Esch. “He also told me those things are going to require a few more days of consideration, at least through the weekend. He has not made any decisions that are definite at this time.”
Jones said the Cowboys would have no other comment on Witten’s future for the rest of the weekend, which includes the last two days of the NFL draft on Friday and Saturday.
The news on the second day of the draft could affect Dallas’ plans just a week after Witten suggested he might play until he was 40 and intended to return next season. Witten will turn 36 in May.
If Witten leaves Dallas, it will be the second straight year that a Cowboys star retires to go into broadcasting. Former quarterback Tony Romo became the lead analyst for CBS last season.
Witten is the franchise leader in consecutive games, starts and consecutive starts. If he retires now, the 10-time Pro Bowler will finish tied with defensive end Ed “Too Tall” Jones, safety Bill Bates and late offensive lineman Mark Tuinei for most seasons in team history.
The decision by Witten also would mean the Cowboys will have lost two of their top three players in career touchdown catches this month. The club released receiver Dez Bryant, the team leader with 73 touchdowns, in a cost-cutting move. Witten is third with 68, three behind Hall of Famer Bob Hayes.
A third-round pick out of Tennessee in 2003, Witten had 1,152 catches for 12,448 yards. He and current NFL analyst Tony Gonzalez are the only tight ends with at least 1,000 catches and 10,000 yards.
But stats and flash never really defined Witten, who was praised by coach Jason Garrett as the best two-way tight end in the NFL because of his blocking ability.
Even though he was still active, the team paid tribute to him in its new practice facility with a huge picture of Witten running down the field against Philadelphia in 2007 without his helmet, which was knocked off on a hit as he stayed on his feet and kept going for almost 30 yards.
The decision by Witten would mean the lead analyst job at all three networks will be held by former players who spent their entire careers with Dallas. The other is Fox’s Troy Aikman, who won three Super Bowls as quarterback in the 1990s.
Witten and Romo spent 14 seasons together, but never got the Cowboys to the NFC championship game. Dallas won two wild-card games with them, but lost both times in the divisional round.