Jason Witten is coming out of retirement and rejoining the Dallas Cowboys after one season as a television analyst.
The Cowboys announced Thursday that the 11-time Pro Bowl tight end had agreed to a one-year contract.
“The fire inside of me to compete and play this game is just burning too strong,” Witten, 36, said in a statement. “This team has a great group of rising young stars, and I want to help them make a run at a championship. This was completely my decision, and I am very comfortable with it. I’m looking forward to getting back in the dirt.”
Witten retired in May to become the lead analyst for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” He spent 15 seasons with the Cowboys, a club record he shared with three others. Now he’s poised to add that franchise mark to the list of records he already has in games, starts, catches and yards receiving.
Witten and Tony Gonzalez are the only NFL tight ends with at least 1,000 catches and 10,000 yards. Gonzalez was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first try this year. Witten is postponing consideration of his date with Canton.
Dallas struggled at tight end without Witten. Geoff Swaim was the most productive before his season ended with a broken wrist after 10 games. Blake Jarwin tied a club record for touchdown catches by a tight end with three in the regular-season finale against the New York Giants. Those were all three of Jarwin’s touchdowns as he had 27 catches for 307 yards. Swaim had 26 catches for 242 yards with one TD.
Swaim got the bulk of the playing time before his injury because of his ability as a blocker, whereas the Cowboys believed Jarwin needed to work on that part of his game.
With Witten, the Cowboys get back someone coach Jason Garrett believes is one of the best two-way tight ends in NFL history. The return comes nine months after an emotional farewell ceremony at team headquarters.
Witten weathered some criticism in his first season with ESPN, but kept saying he was committed to improving and sticking with broadcasting. But the Cowboys returned to the playoffs after missing the season before he stepped away.
“We thank Jason for his many contributions to ‘Monday Night Football’ and to ESPN over the past year and wish him continued success,” ESPN said in a statement. “We have seen many former coaches and players go into broadcasting before eventually returning to the game they love, so we understand Jason’s desire to return to the Dallas Cowboys.”
Dallas beat Seattle in the wild-card round for the first postseason victory with quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys lost a divisional game to the Los Angeles Rams, making it 23 straight seasons without a trip to the NFC championship game since the last of the franchise’s five Super Bowl titles following the 1995 season.
Witten’s return also comes with the pressure on Garrett to get the Cowboys deeper in the postseason in the final year of his contract. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones so far hasn’t given Garrett another extension coming off a third playoff trip in five years.