Brought to you by: Big Shucks
By Zach Walker
With Jason Witten, it’s hard to describe what is actually going on. The decision to retire, the timing, the speculation. It all seemed overwhelming. Waking up Friday morning, day two of the NFL draft to rumblings of Jason Witten’s potential retirement, that’s a sobering moment. What do the Cowboys do about this? They’ve tried to either replace or ease the workload of Witten for a healthy decade. Anthony Fasano, Martellus Bennett, and Gavin Escobar. All second round picks drafted after Witten, a third round pick. All three successful in their own right, but truly no threat to supplanting Jason Witten.
Jason Witten wears a lot of hats. Ambassador for domestic abuse awareness, consummate professional off the field, and on the field, seemingly the most un-guardable option in all of football. I often yelled during preseason games that it should be penalized when Tony Romo would throw to Witten, because it served no purpose, no one learned anything from those gained first downs. But, those first downs are what we all remember, or really don’t. The thing I learned from watching Jason Witten was that he’d always be there. So his big plays weren’t big, but they kept the wheels turning and the offense on the field. There’s the immortal helmet rip play in Philadelphia. But that’s just the signature, not the narrative. Witten wasn’t about highlight reeling, he was about the proof in the pudding, day-to-day, third down conversion grind.
I struggle to remember when Witten’s games played streak went from fact to lore. Perhaps it was after the spleen rupture in Oakland. He gets tagged by Rolando McClain in the first preseason game, and by the time the season opener in New York rolled around, there he was, in the starting lineup. The storm was always calmer with Witten in front of it. If the team was tail-spinning, if someone asked Witten, the work was being put in to course correct, right the ship, and keep the circus of the Dallas Cowboys moving to the next challenge.
Witten’s next challenge is a difficult one to gauge. Made even more difficult by his friend Tony Romo’s instant success, but to translate his excellence from the field to the booth is even more amplified by the task set before him. The Monday night game was once the marquee game of the week, instead of what’s been rolled out every Monday now, which always seems like the scraps after the binge that is the Sunday slate of offerings. Jon Gruden was alright as a broadcaster and his time spent trying to be the most informed person in all of football. The job is now up to Jason Witten to save Monday Night Football. And for Jason Witten to leave the field for the booth, he’s got to be pretty damn confident in his ability and potential as a broadcaster.
The Cowboys don’t replace Witten, they can’t, to think they can is an insult to him. They can have a new face, a new number starting at tight end day one, because they are but the lack of leadership is now a palpable presence void, the load now shifts to Dak Prescott to shoulder the onus of the Cowboys. But to lose Dez Bryant and Jason Witten in a two week span, that’s some serious adverse conditions to overcome.
(This piece is pure opinion)