FRISCO, Texas – Before stepping to the podium at Wednesday's Reliant Home Run Derby, Jason Witten shook hands with a reporter he hadn't seen in months.
"Jason Witten," he introduced himself. "Rookie tight end."
In some ways, Witten's brief retirement probably felt like an eternity -- wrestling with the realities of a football life inside a broadcast booth, no longer between the hashmarks.
"It was a long nine months away," he said.
In other ways, like rejoining a locker room that still contains many of his old teammates, the return is seamless.
The 37-year-old tight end is once again the team's oldest position player. His experience is invaluable to a talented roster that featured over 30 players last season who were 25 years old or younger.
But Witten wants his teammates, the guys who stepped up as leaders in his absence, to continue growing in those roles.
"Fitting in with teammates has never been an issue for me. It's always been something that came very natural," he said. "It was important for me to reiterate to them early on that this is their team, it's their time. It's an opportunity for me to be a part of it.
"I'm still going to be myself. I think that's what we all want, is for me to come back and approach it that way. But even early on with those guys, I constantly – whether it was Sean (Lee), Dak (Prescott), different players along the way, Zeke (Elliott) – I always tried to empower, even though I was the elder statesman on the team."
This is still Witten's time, too. The Cowboys would not have re-signed him in March – a surprise announcement nearly two months into the offseason – if they didn't feel he would continue to make contributions to the offense and team chemistry.
The locker room is glad to have him back from a year off at ESPN.
"Just a good guy – great guy to be around, great guy to have in the locker room," Prescott said. "And I know he's excited about the direction we're going in. It's only going to make this team and this organization better."
Witten has fully immersed himself back into voluntary team workouts this spring, reconnecting with old teammates and meeting new ones. He's not approaching his return as a magical missing link to the team's goal of taking another step in the playoffs.
He wants to be part of the solution. And the work starts now.
"I think the biggest thing is, when you make a decision, you want to go through these times together – offseason training," he said. "You guys know how important that is to me when you build a team, is that you want to be a part of that. The role and all those different things, they work themselves out. I had a lot of fun, I got a new perspective on the game, I think I learned a lot during that year away. I'm excited to show what I've got."