Jason Witten’s retirement leaves big shoes to fill
It’s the end of an era, but all good things must come to an end and insert every other farewell cliché assisted by a forlorn sigh here.
Reports surfaced Friday morning that Cowboys’ great Jason Witten is expected to retire and will join ESPN’s Monday Night Football as an analyst. The news comes on day two of the 2018 NFL Draft held at AT&T Stadium, where the Cowboys have a pick in each of rounds two and three. Witten will meet with owner Jerry Jones before making the decision final. Let me just say, #CowboysNation is #shook.
Fifteen seasons. 68 touchdowns. 1152 receptions. 12,448 yards. Not to mention the several records he’s shattered. Witten is, no doubt, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and his name will forever be enshrined in Cowboys history. The 11-time Pro Bowler has been the cornerstone of the Cowboys’ offense, an impact defined by his consistency and tenacity.
Former coach Bill Parcells commended Witten on the latter during his rookie season in 2003. He’d suffered a broken jaw after taking a hit in a Cowboys win over the Arizona Cardinals, missed one week and was back on the field. That set the tone for what the Cowboys could expect from Witten as a person and player for the years to come. Also worth mentioning, that was the lone game Witten has missed in his NFL career.
But one can’t speak of Witten’s legacy without mentioning his influence off the gridiron and, perhaps, his greatest impact. He has been the constant to an ever-changing Cowboys locker room. The undisputed leader. The guy that rookies and veterans, alike, looked to as an example. Former Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, a guy who has had his share of off-field struggles, attributed much of his growth to Witten’s companionship.
“Wit is one of my favorite, if not my favorite, people in this world,” Bryant said in an interview from 2014. “He helped me so much, just by being around him with not one word spoken. It’s just his presence. The way that he works, I feel like I have to do that. I have to follow that kind of person if I want to be right on or off the field. He’s played a big part in my life, and I don’t know if I respect anybody as much as I respect Jason Witten.”
Witten has established himself as a leader in the community, aligning himself with several nonprofit organizations and the NFL’s Play 60 initiative, to name a few. Witten’s own charitable foundation, Jason Witten’s SCORE Foundation, has funded building projects in both Texas and Tennessee and developed programs designed to help families affected by domestic violence. In 2012, this work was recognized and he joined the list of esteemed players who have won what we know as the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.
Last fall, Witten announced the launch of the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award, an accolade given to a college football player who has demonstrated exemplary leadership on and off the field. The inaugural presentation was held in February at The Star in Frisco, honoring three finalists. UCF’s standout linebacker Shaqueem Griffin won the award in what was an inspirational night for all in attendance. I’m sure there will be more to come.
Again, Witten’s legacy transcends his football stats.
It truly is the end of an era. It’s funny when I think about it. There’s a large population who, when they think of the Cowboys, think of the Aikman-Irving-Smith era. That was their era. I guess my era has been the Romo-Witten-Bryant era, and it’s no more. It’s rather bittersweet, but, in the words of Semisonic, every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. (Yes, I went there.) So as we bid farewell to one era, another is forming in the emergence of young stars Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
As for Witten’s replacement on the field, Rico Gathers could be the guy if he can stay healthy. He made quite a splash in preseason last year. Then, of course, there’s the draft, and Dallas has nine picks remaining. Heading into day two, Dallas Goedert out of South Dakota State and Mike Gesicki from Penn State are two attractive tight ends still on the board. It’ll be interesting to see how the news of Witten’s departure affects the Cowboys’ picks today.
Witten’s retirement certainly leaves a void, on the field and in the locker room, that will be hard for the Cowboys to fill. Nevertheless, cheers to the future Hall of Famer for the grit, the heart and the memories. We wish him the best in his next chapter.
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