Jason Witten

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.

Latest On Cowboys’ Jason Witten

Jason Witten is said to be deciding between a career in broadcasting and another season with the Cowboys, but it might be an easy call. ESPN is offering the tight end $4-$4.5MM to join the Monday Night Football booth, David Moore of the Dallas Morning News reports. 

Witten’s deal with the Cowboys, meanwhile, would pay him a base salary of $1.05MM for 2018 with up to $750K in per-game roster bonuses. However, as Joel Corry of CBSSports.com (on Twitter) notes, Witten has yet to receive his $4.7MM signing bonus, so he’s really deciding between $6.5MM from the Cowboys or $4-4.5MM from ESPN.

Still, if owner Jerry Jones is intent on keeping Witten, he may have to sweeten the deal to some extent. Meanwhile, another network has also entered the fray with what is said to be an “interesting” proposal.

The Cowboys drafted a tight end this weekend, but not necessarily one that can replace Witten. Fourth-round pick Dalton Schultz projects to take over James Hanna‘s role as a run blocker, so the Cowboys still have an obvious need for a tight end who can contribute as a receiver. Cowboys EVP Stephen Jones says the team can get by with a group that includes Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, and Rico Gathers, but I would fully expect them to pursue outside options if Witten retires.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Jason Witten

It remains to be seen if longtime Cowboys tight end Jason Witten will retire for a job in the Monday Night Football booth, but a decision is expected to likely come by Wednesday, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen tweets. Mortensen adds that a competing network has swooped in at the last minute with an “interesting” proposal that will also be considered. 

News came down Friday that the 15-year veteran was to call it quits on a Hall of Fame career to join the ESPN crew, but following a meeting with owner Jerry Jones, Witten decided to mull his options. Those options apparently have now expanded to a second network, though that job remains a mystery.

Mortensen also reports that Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett is actively petitioning the Cowboys’ all-time leading receiver to return for a 16th season (Twitter link). It should not come as a surprise the coach is doing everything he can to get Witten to return. Should Witten retire, the remaining tight ends on the roster would be relative unknowns Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers, Blake Jarwin and the recently drafted Dalton Schultz.

The team could have added Dallas Goedert, the highly touted tight end out of South Dakota State, but the division-rival Eagles swooped in front of the Cowboys in the second round of the draft to take him. It is unclear if the Cowboys would have pulled the trigger on Goedert, but with the potential absence of Witten it made a lot of sense.

Before the news broke on Friday, it had been long expected that Witten would return for a 16th season and potentially play even longer. He recently commented that he wanted to play until he was 40. Despite the recent turnover, however, top jobs in the booth don’t come around every day.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cowboys Rumors: Austin, Witten, S, Draft

The Rams and Cowboys agreed on a deal that will send Tavon Austin to Dallas in exchange for a sixth-round pick, and the sides began discussing this trade on Thursday, Stephen Jones said (via Todd Archer of ESPN.com). Jones said the Rams had a third-day pick in mind as compensation for their former top-10 investment, one who renegotiated his pricey contract earlier this year in order to stay with the team that drafted him. Austin will become the Cowboys’ primary punt returner, Jerry Jones said (via Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News, on Twitter), and will take over those duties from Ryan Switzer — whom Dallas traded to Oakland shortly after the Austin deal was agreed upon. Austin, 27, was a part-time kick and punt returner for the Rams last season. He will also function as primarily a running back with the Cowboys, who envision him taking over Lance Dunbar‘s old role as the team’s primary receiving back. Jason Garrett said (via Machota, on Twitter) the goal will be to get the ball to Austin in a variety of ways, so it sounds like Dallas intends to keep the 5-foot-9 performer in a gadget role.

Here’s the latest from Dallas:

  • While Jerry Jones said Jason Witten would take a few days before announcing a decision about his 2018 status, the owner now is backing off that stance. It may take longer. “As I saw Troy [Aikman] say, that’s his decision, and he’s got the time to make it,” Jones said, via Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk. “He deserves the time to make that. I don’t have a timeline on it. I do know that when we left [Friday], he certainly thought he wanted the weekend to come to some conclusion. … I want to emphasize again how we like our tight ends that we’ve got on the roster that would be on the roster if we don’t have Witten, but certainly Dalton [Schultz] was noted as what we thought was the best blocker of the tight ends.” The Eagles traded one spot in front of their rivals in Round 2 to select Dallas Goedert. Witten may well inform the Cowboys of his decision early next week, but Dallas brass doesn’t appear to be rushing him. The Cowboys selected Stanford’s Schultz in the fourth round.
  • The team wants to bring in competition for Xavier Woods at free safety, Machota tweets. The Cowboys did not draft a safety this weekend but will remain on the lookout for one. This is a unique year to need a safety, with several experienced ones still available. Eric Reid, Tre Boston and Kenny Vaccaro are without teams. However, Machota notes (on Twitter) Jerry Jones declined to comment when asked if Reid would be a possibility for the Cowboys. The former Pro Bowler is in a strange position, being part of the Colin Kaepernick-led protest movement but profiling as a player who is an upper-echelon starter at a lower-profile position. Jones has been a vocal opponent of these protests, probably the leader among the owners against them, so it would be a surprise if Reid ended up in Dallas.
  • The Cowboys were able to draft defensive end Dorance Armstrong in the fourth round, but Jerry Jones said (via Machota, on Twitter) they nearly traded two fourth-round picks to acquire a third-rounder to draft the Kansas pass rusher.

Jerry Jones: Jason Witten Might Not Retire

Jerry Jones said Friday he’s met several times with Jason Witten and that no decision has been made. The Cowboys owner said the future Hall of Fame tight end will take a few days before he makes an official decision, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Although, Rapoport adds Witten has made his decision to step away after 15 seasons.

ESPN.com’s Chris Mortensen reported earlier today that Witten plans to move into broadcasting, joining the revamped Monday Night Football crew for the 2018 season. If Witten follows through on his retirement plans, it stands to reason that the Cowboys will select a tight end in Round 2 or 3 of the draft on Friday night. However, Cowboys EVP Stephen Jones‘ comments indicate that might not happen.

We feel really good about our tight ends,” Jones said on 105.3 (on Twitter). “With what we have on our roster with [Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, and Rico Gathers], we got some really good football players. We don’t think we’re going into a season without a good tight end.”

The Ravens selected Hayden Hurst in the first round, but top tight ends Dallas Goedert, Mike Gesicki, and Mark Andrews remain available should the Cowboys look to fortify the position. Having just released Dez Bryant, the Cowboys are in need of wide receiver help as well. Both Witten and Bryant being out of the picture will signal a major changing of the guard in Dallas, creating key needs in the process.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cowboys TE Jason Witten To Retire?

Jason Witten could go from the field to the broadcast booth. The Cowboys tight end is planning to retire after 15 years in the NFL to join ESPN’s new Monday Night Football broadcast team as a lead analyst, Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com tweets. However, he’ll meet with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on Friday before finalizing his decision. 

Witten has spent his entire 15-year career with the Cowboys and has been selected to eleven Pro Bowls. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions (1,152), receiving yards (12,448) and most consecutive games played (239).

Witten, 36 in May, has missed one regular season game for Dallas as a rookie, but has a perfect attendance record dating back to 2004. His 2017 numbers were not his gaudiest, but he was still productive with 63 catches for 560 yards and five touchdowns. He was also among the ten best run blockers at the tight end position, per Pro Football Focus.

News of Witten’s potential retirement comes as a surprise. Just last week, Witten indicated that he had some football left in the tank.

There’s been a lot of things [said] over the years, especially the last few months. I guess that’s what happens when you get old,” Witten said (Twitter link via Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News). “Hopefully I can play until I’m 40. I’ll take it one day at a time. My plan is to be here with the Cowboys. Absolutely.”

ESPN nearly poached another big name tight end for its broadcast booth earlier this year. Panthers tight end Greg Olsen auditioned for the job and appeared to be giving it real consideration before signing a lucrative extension with Carolina on Thursday.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cowboys Restructure Contract For Jason Witten

The Cowboys have restructured the contract for veteran tight end Jason Witten, opening up around $3.5MM in available cap space, according to ESPN’s Todd Archer. Witten is signed through the 2021 season.

Witten, 35, becomes the second Cowboy to restructure his deal of late, with center Travis Frederick doing so last week. Between the restructuring of both deals, the Cowboys have opened up $10.5MM in available cap space.

The Cowboys were certainly in need of more available cap space, especially with the addition of wide receivers Allen Hurns (two years, $12MM) and Deonte Thompson (one year, $2.5MM). Entering Saturday, the Cowboys had $8.04MM in available cap room, which placed them at No. 26 in the NFL, per Spotrac.

Witten has spent his entire 15-year career with the Cowboys and has been selected to 11 Pro Bowls. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions (1,152), receiving yards (12,448) and most consecutive games played (239). He signed a four-year contract extension last offseason, worth $29.6MM.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.