Jason Witten

This Date In Transactions History: Cowboys Extend Jason Witten

Four years ago today, the Cowboys inked Jason Witten to a brand new deal to take him through the 2021 season. The contract was set to cover four years, but the tight end wound up playing just one year on that pact and two more Dallas years in total — with a retirement sandwiched in between. 

[RELATED: Jason Witten Retires After 17 Seasons]

At the time, Witten was on the verge of his 35th birthday. But, after all of those seasons and crushing blows, he was still productive. The veteran was riding a 13-year streak of perfect attendance — his only missed contest came as a rookie in 2003. In 2016, Witten hauled in 69 passes for 673 yards and three touchdowns — solid work, even if it wasn’t quite as impressive as his past 1,000-yard efforts.

Witten delivered again in 2017, posting 63 grabs for 560 yards and five scores en route to his tenth Pro Bowl selection. But, in May of 2018, he announced that he would “pass the torch to the next generation” and join ESPN’s Monday Night Football booth. Witten’s transition was short-lived – in February of 2019, he surprised everyone by returning to Dallas. His un-retirement was huge for Dallas. Previously, they were looking at a tight end group consisting of Blake Jarwin, Dalton SchultzRico Gathers, and Geoff Swaim.

When Witten changed his mind, the Cowboys issued him a new one-year, $4.5MM deal. It was widely assumed that this would be the final contract of Witten’s career, allowing him to retire in Dallas. Still, Witten had more left in the tank and he was willing to go elsewhere after Jason Garrett‘s departure. That led him to the Raiders, where he turned in an uncharacteristically quiet year. In his age-38 season, Witten caught just 13 passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns. Having been leapfrogged by Pro Bowler Darren Waller and TEs around the league, Witten announced his second retirement in January.

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Jason Witten To Retire After 17 Seasons

After two years back in the game, Jason Witten will return to retirement. The future Hall of Fame tight end informed ESPN.com’s Todd Archer he is leaving football for a second time.

Witten retired after the 2017 season but returned to the NFL in 2019, re-signing with the Cowboys. He played the 2020 season as a Raider. When Witten’s one-year Raiders contract expires in March, he intends to sign a one-day Cowboys deal to make this second NFL exit official.

A coach once told me, ‘The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example,’” Witten said, via Archer. “As I hang it up, I walk away knowing that for 17 seasons I gave it my absolute all. I am proud of my accomplishments as a football player on the field and the example I tried to set off of it. Football is a great game that has taught me many valuable lessons, and I look forward to passing on that knowledge to the next generation.”

While Witten was productive upon returning to the Cowboys in 2019, catching 63 passes for 529 yards and four touchdowns, his age-38 season in Las Vegas saw a steep statistical decline. After signing for $4MM in March 2020, Witten caught just 13 passes for 69 yards with the Raiders. Although he did score two TDs — one of which a go-ahead grab late in a shootout against the Chiefs in Vegas — the Raiders had Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller do most of the heavy lifting on the receiving end.

Witten’s one-and-done Raiders run did allow him to surpass 13,000 receiving yards for his career. Witten and Tony Gonzalez are the only tight ends to do that. No other tight end has ventured past 12,000 yards. The reliable possession cog, however, resides much higher on the receptions list. Witten’s 1,228 catches rank fourth all time — behind only Jerry Rice, Larry Fitzgerald and Gonzalez.

A Cowboys third-round pick in 2003, Witten became one of the most reliable players of his era. He produced four 1,000-yard seasons — each during Tony Romo‘s stay as Dallas’ quarterback — and 11 Pro Bowls. That is tied with Bob Lilly for the most in Cowboys history. A Cowboys cog for 16 seasons, Witten owns the team’s records for receptions, receiving yards, games played (255) and games started (245). The veteran’s one-year stay as a Monday Night Football analyst not going especially well will end up merely delaying his Hall of Fame enshrinement.

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Contract Details: Lawson, Trufant, Shelton, Witten,

Kyler Fackrell (Giants), One year, $4.6MM, $3.5MM guaranteed, base salary 2020: $2.6MM, $2MM roster bonus, according to Jordan Raanan of ESPN.

Antonio Hamilton (Chiefs), One year, $1.047MM, $887.5k guaranteed, $137.5k signing bonus; salary 2020: $910k ($750k guaranteed), according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.

Shaq Lawson (Dolphins), Three years, $30MM, $21MM guaranteed, $4MM signing bonus; salaries 2020: $6.4MM (fully guaranteed), 2021: $7.9MM (fully guaranteed), 2022: $8.9MM; $2.5MM fully guaranteed roster bonus in 2020, $100k workout bonus in 2020-2021, potential $2MM in annual incentives, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.

John Miller (Panthers), One year, $4MM, $2MM guaranteed, $2MM signing bonus; salary 2020: $1.79MM; $160k in per-game roster bonuses, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.

Danny Shelton (Lions), Two years, $8MM, $4MM guaranteed, $2.5MM signing bonus; salaries 2020: $1.5MM (fully guaranteed), 2021: $4MM, according to Michael Rothstein of ESPN.

Desmond Trufant (Lions), Two years, $20MM, $14MM guaranteed, $5MM signing bonus; salaries 2020: $4.5MM (fully guaranteed), 2021: $9.5MM ($4.5MM guaranteed for injury at signing); $500k in annual per-game roster bonuses, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.

Jihad Ward (Ravens), One year, $1.047MM, $637.5k guaranteed, $137.5k signing bonus; salary 2020: $910,000 ($500,000 guaranteed), according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.

Jaylen Watkins (Texans), Two years, $3MM, $300k guaranteed, $300k guaranteed; salaries 2020: $1.1MM, 2021: $1.4MM; 200k first-game roster bonus in 2020, per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.

Jason Witten (Raiders), One year, $4MM, $3.5MM guaranteed; salary 2020: $3.5MM (fully guaranteed); $500k in per-game roster bonuses, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL.com.

Raiders To Sign Jason Witten

Here’s one that not many people saw coming. Tight end Jason Witten will be signing with the Las Vegas Raiders, according to Vincent Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review Journal (Twitter link).

It’s a one-year deal that can be worth up to $4.75MM, Todd Archer of ESPN.com tweets. Although we heard last month that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wanted Witten back, the tight end himself had said he was open to playing with another team. Witten also said that he preferred to finish his career in Dallas, but obviously it didn’t work out. Witten is a Cowboys icon, who spent 16 years with the team before now finally moving on at the age of 37.

Witten, of course, retired after the 2017 season for a brief and ill-fated stint as the Monday Night Football color commentator for ESPN. He’ll now be playing for a coach, Jon Gruden, who used to hold that exact role. After sitting out 2018 he returned to the Cowboys last year, and played a relatively significant role.

He appeared in all 16 games, catching 63 passes for 529 yards and four touchdowns. Despite his advanced age Witten has been remarkably durable, appearing in all 16 games in each of his last 15 seasons. He’ll likely play a reduced role as a pass-catcher in Vegas, and will probably serve as more of a mentor for Darren Waller, the Raiders tight end who broke out last year.

Witten was one of the last remaining ties to the old era of Cowboys football, and Dallas will likely move forward with Blake Jarwin as their unquestioned starter at the position. They signaled as much by inking him to a three-year extension Monday. Witten will end his run in Dallas as the Cowboys’ all-time leader in receptions, yards, and games played. He’s also fourth on the NFL’s all-time receptions list.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cowboys Notes: Jerry, Dez, Witten

This is not exactly surprising given that he’ll turn 78 in October, but Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is not planning to remain at the helm beyond the expiration of the next CBA, as Jon Machota of The Athletic tweets. Of course, the proposed CBA that will soon be voted on by the league’s workforce is another 10-year agreement, so it makes sense that Jones, who has owned the club since 1989, would be prepared to step down around the time the players and owners sit down again in another decade or so.

However, he is adamant that the proposed CBA is the right move for the league and should be ratified by the players.

Now for more from Dallas:

  • Former star wideout Dez Bryant hasn’t played since 2017, but he wants to continue his NFL career and recently expressed his desire to rejoin the Cowboys. For what it’s worth, Jones said he hasn’t ruled it out, as Clarence Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweets. Jones even revealed a little more than we may have liked, saying he has considered the matter while in the shower.
  • Jones would also like tight end Jason Witten to return to the team, as Hill notes (Twitter link). However, it sounds like Jones has a reduced role in mind for Witten, and it remains to be seen whether Witten — who is open to signing elsewhere — will be receptive to that.
  • Likewise, Jones wants to retain pass-rusher Robert Quinn (Twitter link via Hill). The last we heard, the Cowboys had not discussed a new contract with Quinn — understandable, as the club has bigger fish to fry at the moment — but Quinn posted 11.5 sacks in a resurgent 2019 campaign, and Jones hopes there is a way he can keep him in Dallas.
  • Another member of the Cowboys’ front seven, Tyrone Crawford, is under contract through 2020, but the Cowboys could save $6.9MM by cutting him. That could be tempting, given that Crawford played in just four games in 2019 and had surgery on both of his hips. However, the 30-year-old said he could return to the field this spring, and Jones expects him to be on the roster, though he is definitely a restructure candidate (Twitter link via Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News).
  • Cowboys DE Michael Bennett signed a new contract with the Cowboys after Dallas acquired him from the Patriots in October that allows him to hit free agency this year. As such, his comments to ESPN’s Josina Anderson indicating that he wants to play in 2020 are not surprising (Twitter link). It sounds as though Bennett, 34, wants to hook on with a contender, and there should be a market for his services.

Jason Witten Committed To Playing In 2020

Of the three options for Jason Witten regarding the 2020 season, he has eliminated one of them. The future Hall of Fame tight end does not intend to retire and has decided he wants to play a 17th season, per David Moore of the Dallas Morning News (on Twitter).

The next question will be where Witten plays. He has indicated leaving the Cowboys for another team is on the table, but Witten reiterated Tuesday night he wants to play the 2020 season in Dallas.

I think I have to be,” Witten said about being open to playing for another team (via The Athletic’s Jon Machota, on Twitter). “Obviously that’s not ideal. I would love to finish it out here. … It’s a good young group of tight ends. I think I can help them in a lot of ways.”

However, the Cowboys have changed coaches for the first time in nearly 10 years. And Witten is not likely to return to the team, Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweets. No one in the Cowboys’ 60-season history has played more games with the team than Witten, who has suited up for 255 contests since being a Dallas third-round pick in 2003. If Witten plays 16 games in 2020, he will break Tony Gonzalez‘s record for most games played by a tight end (270).

Witten retired after the 2017 season, but after a one-year stint on the Monday Night Football broadcast team, he returned to the Cowboys via one-year deal. Witten nearly duplicated his 2017 numbers, matching his catch total (63) while amassing 529 yards and four touchdowns. Yet again, he did not miss a game. Witten has played in an astounding 255 of a possible 256 regular-season games in his career.

Connections to the Giants have understandably surfaced, given Jason Garrett‘s status as Big Blue’s offensive coordinator. The Cowboys have a greater tight end need than the Giants, however. If Mike McCarthy‘s team does not bring back Witten, it will be interesting to see how it proceeds. The Cowboys did not feature much of note at the tight end spot during Witten’s 2018 NFL sabbatical.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Dak Prescott, Cowboys FAs

We heard earlier this week that negotiations between the Cowboys and quarterback Dak Prescott could ultimately lead to a franchise tag. However, Stephen Jones clarified that the organization is still focused on completing a long-term deal before Prescott hits unrestricted free agency in March.

“We want to get this done,” Jones told Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Dallas Star-Telegram. “Things are fixing to heat up. We want to put every foot forward and try to grind this out and get a deal done.

“I know he wants to get his contract in the rear view mirror and we want it too. We want him to be treated well, financially and respectfully. We are going to have a real urgency to get this done.”

There’s been optimism surrounding an extension for months, but the report from earlier this week cautioned that a deal wasn’t imminent. We heard back in January that the two sides were close to an agreement, with the Cowboys reportedly willing to give Prescott a contract worth $33MM per season. Hill Jr. notes that the quarterback is seeking a deal that would jump Russell Wilson‘s league-leading $35MM AAV.

“I don’t want to get into the details, but we have offered him significant money,” Jones said. “The money we have offered Dak no matter how you look at it would put him as a top five quarterback in the NFL. That is the way we feel about him. He is one of the best.”

Jones added that the team’s priority is signing their franchise quarterback, and they haven’t discussed contracts with any of their other free agents, including wideout Amari Cooper and pass-rusher Robert Quinn. Hill Jr. tweets that the organization also hasn’t decided whether they’ll bring back tight end Jason Witten or linebacker Sean Lee. We learned this morning that Lee wasn’t going to retire.

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Dez Bryant Wants To Return To Cowboys

Could Dez Bryant reunite with the Cowboys? Cowboys VP Stephen Jones says the wide receiver has reached out to him and he’s not ruling out the possibility of signing the veteran.

He has texted me that he would like to come back,” Jones said (via Clarence Hill of the Star Telegram). “We have nothing but great respect for Dez and what he accomplished here. Certainly, as we look forward into the future we look at all opportunities and all potential players that could maybe help us out.”

There haven’t been advanced discussions regarding Bryant just yet, however. Jones explained that he has only started discussing personnel with head coach Mike McCarthy. The two haven’t made determinations on their own free agents either, so Jones says nothing has been decided regarding tight end Jason Witten or linebacker Sean Lee.

Bryant spent eight years with the Cowboys, racking up 531 catches, nearly 7,500 yards, and a franchise-high 73 receiving touchdowns. His run included three straight seasons of at least 88 grabs, 1,200 yards, and 12 touchdowns. During that window from 2012-2014, Bryant was one of the league’s best receivers, and the Cowboys gave him a lucrative contract to reflect his production.

Of course, things didn’t end too well for Bryant and the Cowboys. In his last three seasons with Dallas, Bryant failed to top 900 yards. Then, the Cowboys dropped him in April of 2018, which put him on the curb after most of the NFL’s available free agent dollars had been allocated. Midway through the ’18 season, Bryant hooked on with the Saints. He never suited up for them, however, thanks to an Achilles tear in practice. Last year, Bryant was away from the NFL and training for an eventual return.

Bryant, a three-time Pro Bowler, will turn 32 in November.

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Jason Witten Open To Playing Elsewhere

Less than a year ago, Jason Witten came out of retirement to rejoin the Cowboys. But they now have a new coaching staff, for the most part, making the future Hall of Famer’s status less certain.

Witten has not committed to retiring or returning to the Cowboys for a 17th season. Preferring to stay in Dallas, the 37-year-old tight end has discussed his future with Jerry Jones and new Cowboys HC Mike McCarthy. But the player with the fourth-most receptions in NFL history acknowledged a Dallas departure is also possible.

I realize I’m a free agent too in March. Any time a new staff comes together, I’ve played a long time, so I realize that may mean somewhere else too,” Witten said, via Jon Machota of The Athletic (on Twitter).

Among active players, Witten’s 255 games as a Cowboy are the second-most anyone has played with one team. He trails only Tom Brady (280 games as a Patriot) in this regard. Despite spending a year in the ESPN broadcast booth, Witten nearly duplicated his 2017 numbers by catching 63 passes for 529 yards and four touchdowns in a more explosive Cowboys offense.

Kellen Moore will return as Dallas’ OC and call plays, but Witten has worked with Jason Garrett in each of his past 12 seasons. A rumor circulated recently about Witten reuniting with Garrett in New York. The Giants, however, are better-positioned at tight end with Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison under contract in 2020. The Cowboys have Blake Jarwin (31 catches this season) as a restricted free agent.

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Jason Witten Could Join Giants?

The Giants recently hired former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett as their new offensive coordinator, and another longtime Cowboy could be joining Garrett in the Meadowlands. Per ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, the Giants could look to sign tight end Jason Witten when free agency opens in March (Twitter link).

Witten has spent his entire career in Dallas, and after a one-year stint in the Monday Night Football broadcast booth in 2018, he rejoined the club in 2019. The 37-year-old showed he still has something left in the tank, posting 63 catches for 529 yards and four touchdowns.

Witten recently indicated that he is open to continuing his playing career in 2020, and the Giants could certainly use him. Although Big Blue will have Evan Engram at the top of its depth chart, it couldn’t hurt to have a reliable security blanket like Witten for second-year QB Daniel Jones.

Engram missed the second half of the 2019 season due to injury, and the Giants turned to sixth-round rookie Kaden Smith in his stead. Smith posted 31 catches for 268 yards and three scores, not bad for a rookie TE who was claimed off waivers in September, but perhaps not enough to preclude a one-year deal with Witten.

Garrett joined the Cowboys in 2007, so Witten played under him for 12 years. Dallas will almost certainly offer Witten a better chance than New York to capture a Super Bowl ring in 2020, so that consideration may trump his familiarity with, and respect for, Garrett. Indeed, Mortensen says there is no real clarity on Witten’s future at this point (Twitter link).

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