Stalwart Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten announced his retirement from the NFL Thursday, closing a 15-year career that will likely be immortalized in the Hall of Fame.
Witten says the "time has come to pass the torch."
The move comes after weeks of speculation about the player's future with America's Team, including rumors he'll join ESPN's Monday Night Football as an analyst.
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Those rumors were confirmed by the network Thursday afternoon, following Witten's emotional retirement speech at the team's headquarters in Frisco.
Jason Witten Through the Years
"We want to congratulate Jason Witten on a Hall of Fame caliber career with the Dallas Cowboys and we are thrilled to welcome him to ESPN and Monday Night Football. Jason's passion, his insight, and his ability to clearly communicate his knowledge of the game thoroughly impressed us. He has all the potential to be an exceptional analyst and we can't wait to get started," Connor Schell, ESPN EVP, content.
The Cowboys released Romo, the franchise passing leader, the same day of his CBS announcement in April 2017. After joining Dallas together in 2003, the pair never made it to the Super Bowl or an NFC championship game.
"There's not always a fairy-tale end," Witten said near the end of last season. "I realize that."
Just days from turning 36, Witten walks away as the leader in games, catches and yards receiving for a franchise with five Super Bowl wins, but none since the 1995 season.
Gonzalez is eligible for Pro Football Hall of Fame induction for the first time next year, which should be a good barometer for Witten's chances.
The decision by Witten, a third-round pick out of Tennessee, means the lead analyst job at three networks covering the NFL will be held by former players who spent their entire careers with the Cowboys. The other is Fox's Troy Aikman, who won three Super Bowls as quarterback in the 1990s.
The only Monday night game for the Cowboys is Nov. 5 at home against the Tennessee Titans.
While fighting back tears at times after the Cowboys were eliminated from playoff contention for yet another disappointing finish last season, Witten seemed intent on playing a 16th season.
Asked more recently about a report he had auditioned with ESPN, Witten went so far as to say he might play until he was 40 and declaring "absolutely" that he planned to return.
Less than two weeks later, he disappeared to ponder his future and let Jones address the ESPN report during a news conference that was supposed to be the introduction of first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch. The owner said the Cowboys were waiting for Witten to decide his future.
"I've lived a dream here the last 15 years with this organization, great ownership, great coaches and great opportunity," Witten said during one of his emotional moments after a Week 16 loss to Seattle last December that eliminated the Cowboys. "Disappointed we couldn't get it done this year."
While Witten is the only Dallas player with 1,000 catches (1,152), his career was defined more by durability and toughness than flashy stats. The 11-time Pro Bowler holds the Dallas record for consecutive games played and starts. His iconic moment came in 2007 when he ran nearly 30 yards and was tackled without a helmet after it was knocked off in a collision with two defenders. Witten only missed one game, the fifth of his career in 2003 because of a broken jaw.
When the team opened its new practice facility in 2016, a huge picture of Witten from that play hung over the players' entrance to the indoor practice field. It was the sort of gesture usually reserved for retired players. Witten spent two seasons walking under it.
In addition to 12,448 yards receiving, Witten is third on the Cowboys' all-time list with 68 touchdown catches. He trails Dez Bryant, who was released last month with 73 TDs, and Hall of Famer Bob Hayes (71).
Without Witten and Bryant, the Cowboys are missing their top two receivers from last year and essentially for the past six seasons.
Among the tight ends left behind, only one has a catch in a regular-season game: Geoff Swaim with nine over three seasons.
The Cowboys are high on Blake Jarwin and hope that former Baylor basketball player Rico Gathers can develop after missing his entire second season with a concussion. Dallas drafted Stanford's Dalton Schultz in the fourth round last week.