FRISCO, Texas — Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten plans to retire after 15 seasons and join ESPN as its lead analyst for the “Monday Night Football” broadcast, the network reported Friday.
Citing sources it did not identify, ESPN said Witten planned to meet with owner and general manager Jerry Jones before making the move official. Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple said the team had no comment.
The news on the second day of the draft could affect Dallas’ plans just a week after Witten suggested he might play until he was 40 and intended to return this coming season. Witten turns 36 early next month.
It’s the second straight year that a Cowboys star is retiring to go into broadcasting. Former quarterback Tony Romo became the lead analyst for CBS last season.
Witten is the franchise leader in games and consecutive games played along with starts and consecutive starts. The 10-time Pro Bowler will finish tied with defensive end Ed “Too Tall” Jones, safety Bill Bates and late offensive lineman Mark Tuinei for most seasons in franchise history.
The decision by Witten also means that the Cowboys have lost two of their top three players in career touchdown catches this month. The club released receiver Dez Bryant, the club leader with 73 TD grabs, in a cost-cutting move. Witten is third with 68, three behind Hall of Famer Bob Hayes.
A third-round pick out of Tennessee in 2003, Witten is the franchise leader in catches (1,152) and yards (12,448). He and Tony Gonzalez are the only tight ends with at least 1,000 catches and 10,000 yards.
But stats and flash never really defined Witten, always praised by coach Jason Garrett as the best two-way tight end in the NFL because of his blocking ability.
Even though he was still active, the team paid tribute to him in its new practice facility with a huge picture of Witten running down the field against Philadelphia in 2007 without his helmet, which was knocked off on a hit as he stayed on his feet and kept going for almost 30 yards.
The decision by Witten will mean the lead analyst job at all three networks will be held by former players who spent their entire careers with the Cowboys. The other is Fox’s Troy Aikman, a three-time Super Bowl winner at quarterback in the 1990s.