After a year in the broadcast booth, Jason Witten is coming out of retirement to play a 16th season for the Dallas Cowboys, the team says.
In a surprise statement Thursday morning, the Cowboys said the 36-year-old future Hall of Famer agreed to a one-year contract that will bring him back for the 2019 season.
Terms of the contract with the 11-time Pro Bowl player were not disclosed, though NFL Insider Adam Schefter tweeted the deal was worth $3.5 million. The Associated Press said the deal was worth about $5 million.
"The fire inside of me to compete and play this game is just burning too strong. This team has a great group of rising young stars, and I want to help them make a run at a championship," Witten said in a statement shared from the team. "This was completely my decision, and I am very comfortable with it. I'm looking forward to getting back in the dirt."
Witten was originally selected by Dallas in the third round of the 2003 NFL Draft out of the University of Tennessee. He played 15 seasons for the club before retiring in 2018 to pursue a network broadcasting opportunity with ESPN's Monday Night Football broadcast team.
In his one year on the air, Witten withstood some strong criticism from viewers but said he was committed to improving as a broadcaster.
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In a statement published on Twitter, ESPN said, "We thank Jason for his many contributions to Monday Night Football and to ESPN over the past year and wish him continued success. 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."
Witten, long expected to be a future NFL Hall of Famer and Cowboys Ring of Honor member, retired with 1,152 career receptions, 12,448 receiving yards and 68 touchdowns.
When he retired last year, Witten shared the club record with three others at 15 seasons with Dallas. Now he's poised to add that franchise mark to the list of records he already has in games, starts, catches and yards receiving.
The return of Witten gives quarterback Dak Prescott another run with one of his most trusted targets months after the Cowboys won their first playoff game with the 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and two-time NFL rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott.
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.