FRISCO, Texas – This has not been easy on Jason Witten. Not at all.
At least two people very close to the Cowboys tight end have told me over the past couple days how much the 15-year veteran has been emotionally agonizing over this decision.
Or not to play?
That is the question.
Not exactly Shakespearean, but the dilemma Witten has been wrestling with since last week when, evidently, ESPN made him an offer to become its Monday Night Football lead analyst after his screen test received big thumbs up from a listening audience. And from what it sounds like, the offer was one of those either you couldn't refuse or one you shouldn't refuse.
Now a lot has been coming out ever since, yet nothing from Witten, who Cowboys COO Stephen Jones said out here at The Star on Wednesday that the club is willing to give him all the time in the world he needs to make his decision. Again, to play or not to play.
There have been reports a second network has made him an offer. There have been reports maybe he'd like to play another year. There have been reports he'd rather get into coaching. And reports the Cowboys have been trying to talk him out of retiring.
Jones adamantly said, "Our family struggles with that. You really don't want to talk someone into something . . . this is one case we don't need to be selfish."
So, the wait continues, but word is Witten might be ready to announce his decision as early as Thursday, or, as Jones said, if he needs a month, we'll give him a month – "All the time he needs."
No pressure from the Cowboys. But what about ESPN? Those folks need to know, and would need to go in a different direction if Witten decides to play another year. Can't put all the remaining candidates on hold.
Also, there seems to be some confusion on what the salary cap hit would be if Witten decides 15 years is more than enough. Just know the four-year extension he signed last year did not have any signing bonus or guaranteed money. The extension basically was to shut everyone else up from continually asking him if 2017 would be his last year since it was to be the final year of his contract.
And when the Cowboys reduced what appeared to be a $7.3 million base salary for 2018 to $3.55 million, they did so by cleverly restructuring so there would be no dead money whatsoever no matter what might take place with Witten either this year or the next year or even the year after that.
Hang tight on this one, but let's move on to more Shots.
Safety Third: No, the Cowboys did not use a draft choice on a safety. They did not trade for one. And at best, only two of the 18 rookie free agents signed are free safety types. Now everyone keeps pointing toward last year's sixth-round pick Xavier Woods being the starting candidate, but also the Cowboys saying they would like someone to challenge him. Just don't think it's a totally dead issue trading for a veteran-type, but again years and cap hit will have a whole lot to do with that. As head coach Jason Garrett likes to say, "Talent acquisition is 365 days a year." We are only 122 days into 2018.
One-on-One: Will McClay, Cowboys vice president of player personnel, was quoted yesterday as saying part of the collective decision to release Dez Bryant was based on his "ability to win one-on-one, to win downfield." But Wednesday on 105.3 The Fan, McClay made a slight correction, saying, "I was not misquoted, I was misinterpreted." He went on to point out, "I think Father Time gets all of us. Dez, he won some one-on-ones and he didn't win some one-on-ones, just like many receivers. But I think as you go through it you're looking for the best decision for the team, as we went through that. Dez is going to go somewhere and make a bunch of touchdowns and do something positive for somebody else." Sometimes it comes down to the ear of the beholder."
More Will: So McClay touched on a variety of topics Wednesday morning.
On possibly trading for a safety (no name mentioned): "If something comes along that improves us we'd look at it."
On hanging tight at 19 and 50, yet still coming away with LB Leighton Vander Esch and OL Connor Williams: "I think it was Father Football shining on us."
On possibility of losing Jason Witten: "Next man up, as you could never replace Jason Witten."
On possibility of bringing back now free agent Terrell McClain, their former starting defensive tackle: "He's a free agent, and we'll look at opportunities to improve the team. If he wants to come back, we'll look at it."
Standing O: How long you think the standing ovation will last Friday night out here at the Omi Hotel when Witten is introduced as the winner of the Roger Staubach Award at the gala preceding the ninth-annual Emmitt Smith Celebrity Classic golf tournament on Saturday out at TPC Craig Ranch? The award recognizes sports or entertainment professionals who positively impact the lives of children. Witten certainly has done so by his example as a player and through his own SCORE Foundation.
Cool Moments: A couple of the more memorable moments at last week's NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium, especially for Cowboys fans, was Mr. Cowboy, Bob Lilly, on stage as part of the introduction the Cowboys' second-round pick (Connor Williams) and then 29-year Cowboys scouting and personnel director Gil Brandt introducing fourth-round pick Dorance Armstrong. Well-deserved recognition.
Short Shots: Cowboys are moving defensive tackle Lewis Neal to fullback, creating competition for veteran Jamize Olawale, acquired in a trade with Oakland . . . So the trade for Tavon Austin hits the Cowboys' salary cap for $3 million, his $1 million base and the likely-to-be-earned per game bonus totaling $2 million since he was active for all 16 games last year with the Rams. If he's not, Cowboys receive a per-game rebate in 2019 . . . Count me in on June 16 for Errol Spence Jr. vs. Carlos Ocampo fight out here at Ford Center. Nothing like watching a boxing event in person . . . Did you know Connor Williams' brother Dalton was signed by the Cowboys to a rookie free-agent deal in 2013, but the quarterback was released before the start of training camp . . . And one last Shot in the dark: Wonder if Witten has been struggling with his decision to go into TV or hanging tight to potentially become a head football coach? Although teams haven been known to bring TV analysts out of the booth to become head coaches, right?