Hours have turned into days, days into weeks, and weeks into months, and Dallas Cowboys great Jason Witten remains unsure of his future prospects.
At this point, the veteran tight end confirmed he’ll continue playing, rather than segueing into the NFL coaching fraternity, which answers part of the question.
The other part, still unclear: Where will the soon-to-be 38-year-old call home in 2020?
“I hope that (my future) is here just because there’s nothing I want more than to bring a championship here,” Witten said Tuesday amid the Witten Collegiate Man of the Year ceremony at The Star, per SI.com. “I think this team is close. I think it really has the makeup to do some special things.”
An impending unrestricted free agent, Witten unretired last offseason for a second (and perhaps final) stint with the Cowboys, the only team he’s known in 17 years as a pro. After a nondescript 2019 in which he caught 63 passes for 529 yards and four touchdowns — his lowest output since his 2003 rookie season — he watched as the Cowboys changed regimes, firing Jason Garrett and hiring Mike McCarthy.
Witten met with McCarthy after the latter got the job, and the two shared a “really good visit.” This was before Witten opted to forgo retirement or the opportunity to trade in his cleats for a headset. He communicated to McCarthy his choice to suit up for an 18th campaign and left things there.
The Cowboys and Witten’s representatives are scheduled to talk again after next week’s NFL Scouting Combine and prior to free agency, which formally begins March 18. The 11-time Pro Bowler hopes the pow-wow leads to a new contract with Dallas.
But he’s been around the business long enough to know how things work, and his only recourse is to prepare an exit plan.
“I just think, yeah, coaching is in the future, but right now I want to play while I can. We’ll see where that takes place,” Witten said, per Cowboys in-house reporter David Helman. “Of course I want that to be with the Dallas Cowboys. I’ll always be a Dallas Cowboy. But I also understand that, with all the changes, I may have to go somewhere else.”
In no way does Witten — “adamant that I can still play” — sound resigned to donning another team’s colors next season, but his desire may not sway the Cowboys’ direction at tight end.
That, he knows.
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ESPN Releases ‘Bold’ Offseason Prediction for Witten
As league observers await Witten’s 2020 landing spot, the Worldwide Leader unmasked its official prediction for Dallas’ longtime pass-catcher.
ESPN surveyed each of its NFL team writers for their “bold” offseason prognostications, and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer seems to believe Witten might resurface at The Star — as the enemy.
“At the end of 2019, Witten said he would make a quick decision on his future, which led many to think he would retire and potentially get into coaching,” Archer wrote. “He still hasn’t made one, which brings the playing element into focus. Witten is the franchise leader in length of service, games played, catches and receiving yards. He is one shy of equaling Dez Bryant’s team record for touchdown catches. He is a Cowboy through and through. The Cowboys like Blake Jarwin’s development and could look to add a tight end early in the draft. Witten was productive in his return as a blocker and receiver in 2019, but he turns 38 in May and the arrival of Mike McCarthy as coach could mean the right time for an amicable separation.”
The Patriots, Steelers, Colts, and Redskins are among teams that enter the offseason in need of tight end help. That’s not to say they’ll jump at the chance to sign Witten, but he’ll at least receive some feelers on the open market.
As for the Cowboys, like Archer mentioned, they’re slated to move forward with Jarwin as the new starter, though they too might prioritize the position in the weeks ahead.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL