After sixteen seasons of Hall of Fame-worthy play for one of the most iconic franchises in all of sports, the soon-to-be 38-year-old Jason Witten is going to put on the pads for a team that isn’t the Dallas Cowboys in 2020.
It’s not surprising that Witten will be headed elsewhere, as his insistence on playing another season just didn’t really seem to line up with Mike McCarthy’s new coaching regime trying to make their mark this season. It is surprising that his departure seems to be such a “uh okay” type of story. Within the last few days, the Cowboys have re-signed Amari Cooper and Sean Lee, but lost plenty of key contributors to one of the most frustrating seasons in franchise history. Byron Jones, Robert Quinn, Jeff Heath and Randall Cobb are all gone, just to name a few.
Witten will actually be headed to Las Vegas along with Cowboy teammates Heath and Maliek Collins, so his departure has become buried among a mass of NFL moves that includes Tom Brady leaving the New England Patriots after 20 seasons to head to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. All of this free agency madness paired with the ongoing global pandemic has created a situation where I have to ask myself the following:
Why don’t I care more that Jason Witten has left the Cowboys?
We’ve done this before… not even that long ago
We’re less than two years removed from a emotional retirement ceremony at The Star filled with memories and regret of not being able to finish the fight during his first fifteen seasons in Dallas. It was one of the sadder days in recent DFW sports history because Witten was, and still is, one of the biggest symbols for professionalism and leadership in football. When I re-watch the retirement speech now, I can’t help but shake my head because it really would have been the perfect ending to his career as a Dallas Cowboy.
We currently have a bad taste in our mouth
The failure of the 2019 season isn’t on Jason Witten. However, seemingly at his insistence, he played a major role in a frustrating offense that could rack up yards just as much as anyone else, but was merely a middle-of-the-pack team when it came to scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Witten wasn’t bad in 2019, at all — his receiving yards and touchdown totals are about where they had been the previous few years of his career– but him playing such a major role for the team after a year away from playing and at age 37, really came across as an ego trip for him as the 25-year-old Blake Jarwin or even the 23-year-old Dalton Schultz so frequently sat on the sideline while trying to get some reps at the same position.
Jason Garrett probably has just as much to do with Witten being on the field for nearly twice as many snaps (845 to 434 in 2019), but I just can’t help but be a little irked by Witten not having the mind to say, “Coach, I know I can still contribute, but I don’t need to be out there nonstop. Give these other guys a shot too.”
Maybe that did happen, only people in team meetings and on the sideline would know. I am sure, though, that Witten could have done more to help the situation if he really wanted Jarwin out on the field more. Ultimately, Jarwin ended up okay as he signed a new three-year/$24 million contract this week.
Ultimately, all of these bad feelings will go away over time. We’ll see a Game Break during a Cowboys broadcast in 2020 of Witten scoring a TD for the Raiders and calmly handing the ball to the official before any type of celebration with teammates and it will bring a smile to our face.
Further down the road, after Witten hangs ’em up for real, we won’t even remember the 2019 season for him in Dallas. It will just be as though he played for the Cowboys from 2003 through 2017. When he’s tearfully thanking former coaches and teammates on the stage in Canton, this whole retirement, come back, leave in free agency thing won’t even come up. We’ll think of the helmet-less run after a reception in Philadelphia or many other great plays over the years.
This is just a weird moment for one of the more loved players in Cowboys franchise history. He’s leaving the only franchise he’s ever played for, but it’s almost an afterthought in the consciousness of the average football fan at this moment.
For however long he continues to play, Cowboys fans will always remember the good times, Wit. Good luck in Vegas.
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