Spring 2021 Magazine

Jason Witten ends retirement to return to Dallas Cowboys for 16th NFL season

After 15 years as a standout tight end for the Dallas Cowboys, Jason Witten abruptly retired in May 2018 and joined ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcast booth.

After one season as a color analyst, Witten has abruptly rejoined the Cowboys. The team announced Thursday that one of its most legendary players will return for a 16th season.

“The fire inside of me to compete and play this game is just burning too strong,” Witten said in a statement. “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. I’m looking forward to getting back in the dirt.”

The Cowboys retained his rights, as he was placed on the NFL’s reserve/retired list, and finished 10-6 last season without him. They won their wild-card game over Seattle before falling to the Los Angeles Rams.

Witten has played a franchise-record 239 games as a Cowboy, missing only one game during his rookie season in 2003. For 15 years since, he played all 16 games. Witten’s 1,152 career receptions are fourth in NFL history, and his 12,448 receiving yards rank 21st — but behind only Tony Gonzalez (15,127) among tight ends.

Whenever he hangs up the cleats for good, Witten will leave behind an impressive football legacy — 11 Pro Bowls, two first-team All-Pro selections, Pro Football Hall of Fame (whenever he becomes eligible). But he’s also strived to leave a legacy that goes beyond football.

“Your legacy as an athlete means a lot, but God has got to have a huge impact on your life,” Witten told Sports Spectrum in 2011. “I think about the way He can use me and what a platform we have as athletes. God doesn’t give you this talent just to win titles.”

Raised by his mother in his grandparents’ home because his father was abusive, Witten says his grandparents were instrumental in leading him to the Lord.

“They were just a great example in our life. What characteristics you want to have,” he told CBN. “More than that they were the ones that took us to church and led us to a relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s what changed our life. We’re forever grateful for that.”

Following the Biblical teaching he was taught growing up, Witten is now among the most charitable athletes in the country. His SCORE Foundation assists families year-round in Texas and Tennessee, and the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year award is presented annually to the Division I college football player “who has demonstrated a record of leadership by exhibiting exceptional courage, integrity and sportsmanship both on and off the field.”

In 2012, Witten was awarded the NFL version of that award, the Walter Payton Man of the Year.

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