Jason Witten

NFC East Notes: Beckham Jr., Giants, Eagles, Cowboys

There’s been a lot of renewed discussion about the possibility of an Odell Beckham Jr. trade recently. Beckham Jr. was shopped last offseason, but a mega-extension he signed just before the season seemed to put any trade talk to rest. Just a year into his new record breaking deal however, the rumors have popped up again after Beckham Jr. clashed with his new coaching staff this past weekend. Speaking at the combine this week Giants GM Dave Gettleman didn’t completely shut the door on a potential trade, but said the team “didn’t sign Odell to trade him.”

To that end, Ralph Vacchiano of SNY says the Giants won’t get serious about trading him “unless they are overwhelmed with an offer.” On the other hand, Vacchiano also says head coach Pat Shurmur was “furious” with him at times last year over his antics, particularly when he gave an interview to ESPN where he openly questioned the team’s quarterback situation. Vacchiano also writes that the Giants “are often closer to the breaking point than they may publicly appear” with Beckham Jr. It’ll be a fascinating situation to monitor as the offseason unfold.

Here’s more from the NFC East:

  • After flirting with retirement, Eagles center Jason Kelce ended up signing an extension with the team today. We now have details on the extension, as the new deal will make Kelce the highest paid center in the league, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link). Rapoport notes that the remaining three years on KElce’s contract will now pay him an average of $11MM per year. Kelce received Pro Football Focus’ top grade among all centers, so it makes sense why he’s being paid like it. Kelce is 31 now, and should have at least a couple more years left at an elite level.
  • Speaking of retirement, we have more details on Jason Witten‘s role with the Cowboys in his return. While we’ve already heard Witten won’t be playing a full allotment of snaps, owner “Jerry Jones does not believe the veteran will be a bit piece in the offense,” according to Todd Archer of ESPN.com. Per Archer, Jones said this week that he doesn’t think Witten’s “a progress stopper”, and that he’ll be “well worth the roster spot.” It sounds like Witten could play a meaningful role in the offense even after taking the year off.
  • The Eagles plan on having backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld back in camp next year coach Doug Pederson said from the combine, according to Les Bowen of The Philadelphia Inquirer (Twitter link). Sirius XM’s NFL Insider Adam Caplan tweeted in response that Sudfeld, who is a restricted free agent, is an “interesting player who could draw strong interest from other teams if they use the low tender.” Pederson did say that the team doesn’t “just go around and give out jobs,” but they wanted Sudfeld to compete to be Carson Wentz‘s backup. Assuming another team doesn’t steal him away with an offer sheet, it sounds like Sudfeld should slide in and replace Nick Foles as the primary backup in Philly.

Cowboys Rumors: Earl Thomas, Witten, Draft

Seahawks free agent safety Earl Thomas is expected seek $15MM a year with his next deal, The Athletic’s Calvin Watkins tweets.

Watkins notes that figure might be too high for the Cowboys. Though possessing plenty of cap space this offseason, the team is expected to use most of that money in signing Demarcus Lawrence to a long-term deal and working on extensions for players like Dak Prescott and Byron Jones.

Thomas and the Cowboys have long been linked ever since the All-Pro safety told head coach Jason Garrett to “come get him” following a 2017 game. The Cowboys and Seahawks were in talks on trades for the star defender in the offseason but could not come to an agreement on draft-round compensation.

Thomas, a Texas native and longtime Cowboys fan, reportedly will not take a “hometown” discount with the team and is also expected to be courted by the 49ers.

Here’s more surrounding the Cowboys:

  • When asked whether the newly signed Jason Witten is a “coach in waiting,” owner Jerry Jones said that he will be with the team in the future, whether that is as a coach or in another position, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen tweets. After a year-long hiatus, Witten made a shocking decision when he decided to come back for another season in 2019. Long considered a future NFL coach, Witten is sure to make a move in that direction following what is, presumably, his last season.
  • Speaking of Witten, when the future Hall of Famer rejoined the team, it was expected the Cowboys would not take a tight end early in the draft. That might not be the case, as the team has already met with Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson, The Dallas Morning News’ Jon Machota tweets. Though they might have interest, the Cowboys do not possess their first-round pick thanks to the Amari Cooper trade and the college standout will likely be gone before their Day 2 selection.
  • Like we said earlier, the Cowboys are expected to use most of their cap space to resign their own players this year. The team has already met with the agents for Prescott, Jones and Cooper, and are expected to meet with Lawrence’s agent tonight, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Clarence Hill Jr. tweets. They have not met with Ezekiel Elliott‘s agent yet, but have indicated plenty of interest in resigning him at some point.

 

NFC East Notes: OBJ, Cowboys, Redskins

Dave Gettleman gave his Odell Beckham Jr. party line again this week, insisting the Giants were planning to keep him. However, trade gusts continue to swirl in Indianapolis. While the Giants won’t move Beckham for a below-market deal, Jay Glazer of The Athletic notes (subscription required) buzz around the Combine points to the team being ready to part ways with the superstar wideout if the offer is fair. Glazer predicted earlier this month Beckham would be traded. Teams are higher on Beckham than Antonio Brown, with the latter’s antics posing a significant problem for some, Glazer hears. This could inflate Beckham’s value, but Gettleman will surely need to be blown away to part ways with the recently extended wideout.

Here’s the latest from the NFC East quartet:

  • Jason Witten‘s exit from the Monday Night Football booth shocked many, and the Cowboys already appear to have a plan for the recently unretired tight end. They are planning to deploy Witten around 25 snaps per game, Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports. The future Hall of Fame tight end, who will turn 37 in May, does not want to impede incumbents Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz‘s progress, per Hill, and is fine with a 25-snaps-per-game workload.
  • Another way the 2019 Cowboys could be flashier than the ’18 version: if Earl Thomas joins the team. Long connected to the Cowboys, the Texas native looks to still view Dallas as his preferred destination. If the money is equal, Thomas will pick Dallas, former teammate Richard Sherman said (via Matt Barrows of The Athletic, subscription required). However, the 49ers cornerback added that another team outflanking the Cowboys would make it a fairer fight. Thomas’ camp met with the Cowboys’ Combine contingent on Thursday, according to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora (Twitter link). It doesn’t sound like the Cowboys will go all-in for the three-time All-Pro, with JLC adding the team is casting a wide net (on a deep safety market) to help here. But the soon-to-be 30-year-old defender certainly appears to still be on Dallas’ radar.
  • Nick Foles has now been connected to the Jaguars and Giants, but the Redskins also need a starting quarterback. Or do they? Washington appears likely to avoid spending starter-level cash on a veteran, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (video link). Colt McCoy has one season remaining on his contract, and a report earlier this month indicated the Redskins are high on their backup as a possible stopgap starter. McCoy, 32, has not been a full-time starter since working in that capacity for the 2011 Browns. He started 21 games for Cleveland from 2010-11 before becoming a well-regarded backup.
  • The Eagles are finally under the projected cap, but they are still floating Nelson Agholor‘s name as a trade option at the Combine, La Canfora writes. The 2015 first-round pick’s salary is set to spike to $9.4MM. Although Philadelphia is not going through with its Foles tag-and-trade plan, taking a $25MM cap hold off the books, Agholor’s salary will still affect a team with just $6MM in cap space. Only the Jaguars hold less.

Jason Witten Signs With Cowboys

Jason Witten has decided to end his retirement and return to the Cowboys, according to a team press release. Witten walked away from the game last year to join ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcast, but he has decided to put his broadcasting career on hold in order to resume his playing career. 

The fire inside of me to compete and play this game is just burning too strong,” the 36-year-old (37 in May) 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.”

With this news, Witten is now set to return for a 16th pro season. From 2003-17, Witten was among the best tight ends in the league and earned eleven Pro Bowl nominations, a Cowboys record for any offensive player.

The veteran will earn a base salary of $3.5MM with a maximum earning potential of $5MM for the coming year, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter) hears. Witten will make less than he has in previous seasons, but Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter) notes that this could be a bridge to a head coaching role for him.

Witten’s “unretirement” may drastically alter the Cowboys’ offseason plans. Previously, tight end was among the team’s biggest needs, but the Cowboys should be set with Witten, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, and Rico Gathers under contract. Geoff Swaim, an impending free agent, could also be re-signed to compete for a backup role.

By returning to the field, Witten leaves a void to fill in ESPN’s booth. That could help to explain the network’s interest in Greg Olsen, and the Panthers tight end could theoretically end his own career if offered one of the most prestigious jobs in sports television.

Witten has 1,152 career receptions to his credit, which ranks fourth in NFL history behind Jerry Rice, Tony Gonzalez, and Larry Fitzgerald. Meanwhile, his 12,448 receiving yards are good for second among all tight ends behind only Gonzalez (15,127).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cowboys Deny Trying To Pull Jason Witten Out Of Retirement

According to Jason Witten‘s ESPN coworker Adam Schefter, the Cowboys tried to pull the tight end out of retirement multiple times this year. However, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says that’s not true. 

That’s just not correct, period,” Jones said (via Kate Hairopoulos of the Dallas Morning News) after the game. “He misses competing, but he’s got his head down and hands in the dirt, doing the job on ‘Monday Night Football’.”

Of course, no one could blame the Cowboys if they did try to keep one of the most reliable and durable tight ends in the game, especially after an offseason that left them without a true No. 1 wide receiver. But, Jones says it’s not true, and at this point, the Cowboys appear to be doing okay without Witten. The tight ends filling in for Witten came through on Sunday, including Blake Jarwin who had a seven-catch, 56-yard performance against the Eagles. The Cowboys’ offense has also improved greatly since trading for wide receiver Amari Cooper, who caught yesterday’s game-winning TD.

Witten piled up 11 Pro Bowl nods and two First Team All-Pro selections over the course of his career, spent entirely with the Cowboys. Even if head coach Jason Garrett never tried to pull Witten out of the booth, it’s hard to imagine that they’d say no if the 36-year-old had a change of heart.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jason Garrett Tried To Convince Jason Witten To Unretire

The 7-5 Cowboys have put together a four-game winning streak and now sit atop the NFC East standings, though the 6-6 Eagles are hot on their heels. Dallas hosts Philadelphia in a critical divisional matchup this afternoon, and according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett has reached out to an old friend to give his club a boost.

Per Schefter, Garrett has made multiple attempts this season to convince former Cowboys tight end Jason Witten to come out of retirement and rejoin the team. Witten, of course, announced his retirement back in May, and he has served as a color commentator for ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcasts this year (which have not gone nearly as well for him as his on-field career did). Even though Witten is now 36, he did put up 63 catches for 560 yards and five scores last season, and Dallas would kill to have that kind of production from its tight end corps this year.

The Cowboys’ have gotten next to nothing from their tight ends in 2018 thanks to injury and poor performance, and Garrett was convinced that Witten could step out of the broadcast booth and back onto the field without missing a beat. The team’s offense has come alive since adding Amari Cooper prior to the trade deadline, and Garrett believed Witten’s presence would further bolster the unit. However, Witten has firmly resisted Garrett’s overtures and is committed to honing his new craft.

The Cowboys drafted Witten out of Tennessee in the third round of the 2003 draft, and he never suited up for anyone else. He piled up 11 Pro Bowl nods and two First Team All-Pro selections in a remarkable career that places him near the top of all major statistical categories for tight ends.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Panthers, Fleener, Avril, Falcons, Witten

Earlier this week, we learned that Curtis Fuller had resigned from his gig as the Panthers defensive backs coach. While no explanation was provided at the time, ESPN’s David Newton reports that the decision stemmed from the NFL’s investigation into owner Jerry Richardson.

Ultimately, the team had received “complaints of workplace misconduct” by Fuller, with women describing his conduct as “inappropriate.”

“After approaching Coach Fuller with the findings of an investigation into complaints of inappropriate conduct, we accepted his resignation,” said team spokesperson Steven Drummond. “The Panthers are deeply committed to ensuring a safe, comfortable and diverse work environment where all individuals, regardless of sex, race, color, religion, gender, or sexual identity or orientation, are treated fairly and equally.”

Fuller had been with the organization since 2013. Following Steve Wilks promotion to defensive coordinator, Fuller was named the defensive backs coach prior to last season.

Let’s take a look at some more notes from around the NFL…

  • The Saints released tight end Coby Fleener earlier today, and ESPN’s Field Yates tweets that the team designated the transaction as a post-June 1st release. That means New Orleans will clear $3MM in cap space on June 2nd. The veteran’s $3.4MM base salary became guaranteed in February, and the team could have saved $3.2MM against the cap by releasing him prior to that date.
  • Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff says he’s still hoping to add defensive line depth in free agency (Twitter link via 92.9 The Game). That would help to explain Atlanta’s recent interest in former Redskins and Cowboys defensive tackle Terrell McClain. After losing defensive tackle Dontari Poe to the Panthers and Adrian Clayborn to the Patriots earlier this offseason, the Falcons are looking to restock the front four.
  • Cliff Avril has not officially retired, but it sounds like he is prepared to move on from football. The former Seahawks defensive end will join Sports Radio 950 KJR as a midday co-host beginning in July, the station announced. The press release makes it sound as though Avril’s playing days are through. “Cliff had an amazing career and we are lucky to be part of his next chapter,” iHeartMedia Seattle exec Rich Moore said. However, Avril’s open letter to Seahawks fans last week indicated that he would make his decision after speaking further with medical experts. The Seahawks released the 10-year veteran last week amidst concerns about his neck.
  • Long-time Cowboys star Jason Witten announced his retirement earlier today, and his former quarterback penned the tight end a farewell letter. “Sometimes in life you are lucky to come across someone that will change your life,” Tony Romo wrote on Twitter. “Most of the time you don’t realize it at the moment the profound impact and impression someone will have on you. The difference with Jason Witten is that I knew right away the impact he would have on me. Not only was Jason the most talented, humble and hardest working individual on our football team, but he was one of the most genuine, good-hearted people you could ever meet.” Romo also referred to Witten as the “best” player he ever played with.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

Jason Witten Announces Retirement

In an emotional press conference, Cowboys tight end Jason Witten announced his retirement from football. As widely reported over the past week, Witten will be stepping into the broadcast booth for Monday Night Football. 

After much self-reflection, prayer, and faith, I have decided that the time has come for me to pass the torch to the next generation of Dallas Cowboys and retire from the National Football League,” said Witten to a room full of media members, teammates, and family.

Witten entered the league as a third-round pick of the Cowboys in the 2003 NFL Draft. He missed one game as a rookie due to a broken jaw, but otherwise had a flawless attendance record throughout his 15-year career. With 1,152 catches for 12,448 yards and 68 touchdowns and a franchise record of 235 consecutive games played, Witten has a strong case for the Hall of Fame.

Last season wasn’t Witten’s best, but he still had 63 catches for 560 yards and five touchdowns and secured his eleventh Pro Bowl selection as a replacement for Zach Ertz. When Witten informed Jerry Jones of his plan to transition into broadcasting, the Cowboys owner begged him to reconsider and reportedly made it a tough call for the tight end. Ultimately, Witten did not want to miss his opportunity to grab one of the most prestigious broadcasting jobs in the NFL.

Witten’s retirement will leave a serious void in the Cowboys’ locker room, as well as their tight end depth chart. Cowboys EVP Stephen Jones has indicated that the team can get by with a group that includes Geoff SwaimBlake Jarwin, and Rico Gathers, but it stands to reason that they will also comb the free agent market for tight ends. Antonio Gates stands as the most recognizable TE available in a thinned-out group, but roster cuts between now and September could present some quality options for Dallas.

Witten’s eleven Pro Bowl selections are good for second amongst any tight end in league history, trailing only Tony Gonzalez (14). After that, Gates and Shannon Sharpe are tied for third with eight selections. Given that Sharpe is in the Hall of Fame, it seems probable that Witten is also Canton-bound.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cowboys’ Jason Witten To Retire, Join ESPN

It’s a done deal. Cowboys tight end Jason Witten has informed owner Jerry Jones and coach Jason Garrett that he will retire in order to join the Monday Night Football broadcast booth, multiple sources tell Todd Archer of ESPN.com (on Twitter). 

Witten first informed the Cowboys of the offer to join MNF before the draft, but Jones implored Witten to think it over for a few days. Although it was believed from the get-go that Witten would follow through on retirement, the veteran struggled with the decision for the last week, Archer hears.

Witten leaves the game with the fourth-most catches in NFL history (1,152) behind only Jerry Rice, Tony Gonzalez, and Larry Fitzgerald. He’s also leaving football without the Super Bowl ring he has chased since 2003, which is probably part of what made the decision difficult for him.

Top tier broadcasting jobs such as the color commentary position in the Monday Night Football booth rarely become available and Witten did not want to let this opportunity pass him by. He’s also not taking much of a pay cut – he would have earned $6.5MM in total from the Cowboys this year, but ESPN will pay him in the range of $4MM to $4.5MM.

Witten was a hot commodity in broadcasting this year as another mystery network also pursued him. Witten ultimately settled on ESPN, meaning that each of the NFL’s big three broadcasting partners will employ ex-Cowboys as their top color commentators.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC East Rumors: Witten, Cowboys, Eagles

Although Cowboys owner Jerry Jones doesn’t seem ready to admit it, tight end Jason Witten is fully expected to follow through on retirement and become an analyst for ESPN’s Monday Night Football, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (video link), who called Witten’s shift to the Worldwide Leader a “done deal.” If Witten does indeed hang up his cleats, he could be stuck in a thorny contractual issue with Dallas. The Cowboys converted $4.7MM of Witten’s base salary into a signing bonus earlier this year, but could now ask for that money back, as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes. Dallas released quarterback Tony Romo last summer, allowing him to retain all of his bonus money in the process, and it’s fair to wonder if the club will do the same for Witten, who is expected to command a salary of $4-4.5MM at ESPN.

Here’s more from the NFC East:

  • Despite not adding a single defensive back in last weekend’s draft, the Cowboys are not expected to have interest in free agent safeties Eric Reid, Kenny Vaccaro, or Tre Boston, reports Todd Archer of ESPN.com. Dallas did’t have any interest in either of the three veterans pre-draft and doesn’t believe any would fit its defensive scheme. For what’s it worth, the Cowboys reportedly tried to acquire Vaccaro at the 2017 trade deadline. Safeties in general have had a hard time generating buzz this offseason, with one agent telling Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com that defensive backs aren’t getting offers of even “one year, $3MM.” For now, Dallas will likely roll with Xavier Woods and Jeff Heath at safety after moving former first-round pick Byron Jones to cornerback.
  • If the Redskins had released defensive tackle Terrell McClain earlier this year (instead of on Monday), he’d likely already be back on the Cowboys roster, tweets David Moore of the Dallas Morning News (Twitter link). Dallas picked up former second-round interior defender Jihad Ward from the Raiders in a draft-day exchange that sent wideout Ryan Switzer to Oakland, but they’re still expected to express interest in McClain. The 29-year-old McClain spent the 2014-16 campaigns in Dallas, and was a 15-game starter during his final season with the Cowboys.
  • Eagles defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan recently underwent surgery for a herniated disc, per Howard Eskin of WIP-FM (link via Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Inquirer). As such, Jernigan won’t participate in spring workouts but is fully expected to be ready for 2018 regular season. Philadelphia acquired Jernigan from the Ravens last April, sacrificing just a 25-slot drop in the third round in order to land the now-25-year-old. After a productive debut year with the Eagles, Jernigan inked a four-year, $48MM extension that should keep him in town through 2021.