FRISCO - Jason Witten took six days to make sure he was making the right decision, but in the end, the Cowboys tight end couldn't say no to an opportunity that will allow him to remain a major part of the NFL without the risk of another fractured jaw or lacerated spleen.
Witten called it a career Thursday after 15 seasons and will retire as he transitions into the broadcast booth to become ESPN's lead analyst on Monday Night Football, sources have confirmed to SportsDay insider David Moore. ESPN's Todd Archer was first to report the news.
Four months ago, Witten vowed he'd return for a 16th season and until recently had planned to suit up again to make another run at a Super Bowl, about the only accomplishment missing from his impressive resume.
But the status of the MNF job and a salary of between $4 million-$4.5 million for a multi-year deal, sources said, proved too much to turn down.
If Witten would have played in 2018, he would have become the first Cowboys player ever to take the field for 16 seasons.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones met with Witten on Friday and other club officials also stressed to Witten how much they want him to play in 2018. But instead Witten will follow in the footsteps of former Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith, who left the field to become a color commentator for MNF beginning in 1970.
Witten stressed the last few years - when he was asked how long he'd play - that he'd know when it was time to hang it up. He said when he felt like he couldn't compete at the highest level he'd know it was time to walk away. He said he had too much respect for the game just to play additional years in an effort to hang on to what once was.
Witten will leave not only a void on the field but also in the locker room. He's one of the most-respected players league-wide and set the standard for the Cowboys as the longest-tenured player remaining on the roster.
Witten is retiring just before his 36th birthday Sunday. The Cowboys drafted him in the third round in 2003 out of Tennessee. His place in Cowboys history is secure. He's the franchise leader in receptions, receiving yards and games played (239 including playoffs).
He finishes his career with 1,152 catches for 12,448 yards and 68 touchdowns. His 11 Pro Bowls, including his last one in January, are tied with Bob Lilly for most all-time in franchise history.