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Christopher Jason Witten (born May 6, 1982) is an American football tight end for the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football for the University of Tennessee, and was drafted by the Cowboys in the third round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Witten ranks second in all-time career receptions and receiving yards by an NFL tight end, trailing only Tony Gonzalez. Initially retiring in 2018, he became a color analyst for ESPN's Monday Night Football, Witten announced in February 2019 that he would end his retirement and return to the Cowboys in 2019.

Jason Witten
refer to caption
Witten with the Dallas Cowboys in 2017
No. 82 – Dallas Cowboys
Position:Tight end
Personal information
Born: (1982-05-06) May 6, 1982 (age 37)
Elizabethton, Tennessee
Height:6 ft 6 in (1.98 m)
Weight:265 lb (120 kg)
Career information
High school:Elizabethton
(Elizabethton, Tennessee)
College:Tennessee
NFL Draft:2003 / Round: 3 / Pick: 69
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics as of Week 1, 2019
Receptions:1,155
Receiving yards:12,463
Receiving touchdowns:69
Player stats at NFL.com
Player stats at PFR

Early years

Witten has two older brothers, Ryan and Shawn, and was raised in Washington D.C., but attended Elizabethton High School in Elizabethton, Tennessee.[1] Witten's father, a 6'8", 300 lb. mailman, became addicted to alcohol and drugs when Witten was 6 and became abusive toward Witten's mother, Kim, and Witten's older brothers.[2] When Witten was 11, he moved to Elizabethton to live with his grandparents.[3] His grandfather, Dave Rider, was the coach of the football team where Witten was a two-way player, playing linebacker and tight end.[4]

Witten became a three-year starter playing both linebacker and tight end, while helping his team reach the state semi-finals three times. As a senior linebacker, he finished the season with 163 tackles (registering a career school record 450), nine sacks, two interceptions, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and two blocked kicks. That year, he received several accolades: All-American, All-State (also as a junior), USA Today Player of the Year for Tennessee, East Tennessee Player of the Year, Region Defensive Player of the Year and runner-up for the Mr. Football award. He had 26 receptions and 14 touchdowns on offense. He also played basketball, where he averaged 15 points and 12 rebounds per game.

College career

In 2000, Witten accepted a scholarship to the University of Tennessee, with the promise from head coach Phillip Fulmer that he would be played at defensive end. Witten began his first year playing special teams and also saw time as a second-string defensive end.

After injuries impacted the depth at the tight end position, he was moved to the offensive side midway through the season. Although Witten did not agree with the change and even considered transferring, he eventually came around and was used primarily as a blocker while he learned the position. He also started in his first 2 games.[5] As a freshman, he recorded one reception on the season, which went for 11 yards in a 70–3 victory over Louisiana–Monroe.[6]

Witten started three games as a sophomore, catching 28 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns.[7] He scored his first collegiate touchdown in a 35–24 victory over Alabama.[8] As a junior, he had a breakout year, setting school records for a tight end in receptions (39) and receiving yards (493) with five touchdowns, including one of the most memorable receptions in school history, a game-winning touchdown in the sixth overtime against the University of Arkansas.[9][10] He received All-SEC (SEC) and Academic All-SEC honors after leading the conference's tight ends in receptions and receiving yards.[11]

Even though he decided to enter the NFL Draft after his junior season and had played the position in only 20 games, Witten left ranked third all-time among the school's tight ends with 68 career receptions and fourth all-time with 797 receiving yards.[12]

Professional career

Pre-draft measurables
Ht Wt Arm length Hand size 40-yard dash 10-yd split 20-yd split 20-ss 3-cone Vert jump Broad BP
6 ft 5 34 in
(1.97 m)
264 lb
(120 kg)
32 12 in
(0.83 m)
9 78 in
(0.25 m)
4.65 s 31 in
(0.79 m)
9 ft 2 in
(2.79 m)
25 reps
All values from NFL Combine[13]

Dallas Cowboys

2003 season: Rookie year

Witten was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the third round (69th overall) of the 2003 NFL Draft.[14] Although the Cowboys had a first-round grade on him, when their turn came in the first and second rounds, they selected cornerback Terrence Newman and Al Johnson based on team needs. Undrafted free agent Tony Romo was another rookie who also arrived in Dallas in 2003 and would go on to become Witten's teammate throughout their careers, as well as his roommate during future team training camps and travel games.

Entering the league as a 20-year-old rookie, Witten started only seven of the 15 games he played in. On September 7, he made his NFL debut in a 27–13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, where he had one reception for 13 yards.[15] He broke his jaw against the Arizona Cardinals, after being hit by Ronald McKinnon and Ray Thompson, which required surgery to have three plates inserted to help the healing. He only missed one game and continued to play through the injury. Then-head coach Bill Parcells complimented Witten on his toughness. Witten was named to the NFL All-Rookie Team for the 2003 season.[16]

Witten finished his rookie year with 35 receptions for 347 yards and a touchdown.[17]

2004 season

Witten had a breakout season in 2004, leading the NFC with 87 catches, which was also the 11th most in NFL history by a tight end and a Cowboys team record for the position.[18][19] On November 15, against the Philadelphia Eagles, he had nine receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns.[20] He was selected to his first Pro Bowl, becoming a part of the Cowboys franchise's legacy of great tight ends that includes Jim Doran, Lee Folkins, Pettis Norman, Mike Ditka, Billy Joe DuPree, Franklin Clarke, Doug Cosbie and Jay Novacek.[21]

2005 season

Witten finished sixth in the NFL among tight ends with 66 receptions and became the first Cowboys tight end to have at least 65 receptions in consecutive seasons.[22] He had 757 receiving yards and six touchdown receptions in 2005.[23] As a result of his successful season, he was named to his second Pro Bowl.[24]

2006 season

At the end of the 2006 season, Witten became just the tenth tight end in NFL history to post three consecutive seasons with at least 60 receptions.[25] He registered 64 receptions for 754 yards (11.8-yard avg.) and one touchdown, while being named to his third Pro Bowl.[26]

On July 22, Witten signed a six-year, $29 million contract extension through 2012. The deal contained $12 million guaranteed, including a $6 million signing bonus and a $6 million option bonus in the second year.[27]

2007 season

Witten had a career year in 2007, breaking his own single-season Cowboys tight end record for receptions with 96 and becoming the first franchise tight end to reach 1,000 receiving yards in a season.[28] He became the third tight end in NFL history with 96 or more catches. On December 9 against the Detroit Lions, Witten's 15 receptions tied an NFL record held by Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow Sr., for most receptions in a game by a tight end in NFL history.[29] In the 14th game of the year, Witten became the first Dallas tight end ever to gain over 1,000 receiving yards in a season. Witten was also one of the NFL-record 13 Cowboys players selected to the Pro Bowl.[30][31] Additionally, he made the 2007 All-Pro team along with teammates Terrell Owens and DeMarcus Ware. In the Week 9 game on November 4, while playing at Philadelphia, he made a 53-yard reception after losing his helmet.[32][33] He was named as a First Team All-Pro for the 2007 season.[34]

Witten was nominated for the 2007 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, which was won by Jason Taylor.[35]

2008 season

Witten made his 400th NFL reception in the Cowboys' Thanksgiving Day game against the Seattle Seahawks on November 27. On December 28, against the Philadelphia Eagles, he completed a 42-yard pass for the first pass of his NFL career.[36] Witten posted 81 receptions, which ranked 13th in the NFL for 2008, 952 yards, 4 touchdowns, and was named a starter for the 2008 Pro Bowl.[37][38][39]

2009 season

 
Witten in 2009

In 2009, Witten had another Pro Bowl season, making 94 receptions for 1,030 yards and two touchdowns.[40][41] He was also given the NFL Iron Man Award.[42]

 
Witten (left) during an interview with ESPN.

2010 season

Witten banged his head on the turf after making a catch in a Week 2 loss against the Chicago Bears. He was forced to miss the rest of the game with a concussion. Before the injury, he had five receptions for 51 yards.[43]

In a Week 15 game against the Washington Redskins, Witten became the fastest tight end to make 600 receptions (125 games). He accomplished this with a 10-catch, 140-yard, one-touchdown day at home.[44] He received his seventh consecutive Pro Bowl selection when he was named as the starting tight end for the NFC.[45]

At the end of the season, Witten was named tight end of the Year by the NFL Alumni Association.[46]

Overall, Witten finished the 2010 season with 94 receptions for 1,002 yards and nine touchdowns.[47] He was named as a First Team All-Pro for the second time in his career.[48] He was ranked No. 36 by his fellow players on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2011.[49]

2011 season

On November 13, 2011, Witten surpassed Ozzie Newsome to become the tight end with the third most receptions in NFL history with 663.[50] Witten finished the season with 79 receptions for 942 receiving yards and five touchdowns playing in all 16 games.[51] He was also ranked No. 75 by his fellow players on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2012.[52]

2012 season

On August 13, 2012, Witten suffered a lacerated spleen in the preseason opener against the Oakland Raiders and missed the rest of the preseason. There was talk that the seriousness of the injury could keep him out of action for a considerable time.[53]

On September 5, Witten battled back and was able to play in the season opener, catching two passes for 10 yards in a victory over the New York Giants.[54] Witten's availability for the game was in question due to the spleen injury he suffered during the preseason, but he was active for the game after being medically cleared to play.[55]

During Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks, Witten caught four passes for 58 yards.[56] He finished the game with 702 career receptions to become just the second player in franchise history to reach 700+ catches (Michael Irvin has 750) and the third tight end in NFL history to do so (Tony Gonzalez and Shannon Sharpe are the other two). Witten became the fastest tight end to reach 700 catches, reaching the milestone in 145 games, Gonzalez took 154 games and Sharpe took 178 games. Witten also became the youngest wide receiver/tight end to reach 700+ catches with 30 years, 133 days. This record was later broken in Week 3 by Cardinals' wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald who totaled 707 career catches with 29 years, 23 days. His 58-yard performance gave him 7,977 receiving yards for his career passing former Cowboy Jackie Smith for fourth all-time in receiving yards among tight ends.

After Week 3, Witten passed Ozzie Newsome for third place all-time in receiving yards among tight ends. In week 8, Witten caught a career-high 18 passes for a career-high 167 yards. This is also a record for receptions by a tight end; the previous record of 15 receptions was set by Kellen Winslow in 1984.[57][58]

On November 4, against the Atlanta Falcons, Witten set the Cowboys' all-time receptions record of 754, surpassing Michael Irvin's previous record of 750.[59]

On December 23, against the New Orleans Saints, Witten set the NFL single-season record for receptions by a tight end (103), barely breaking the previous record of 102 receptions, which had been set by Tony Gonzalez in 2004.[60] He extended the record to 110 in the season finale.

On December 26, Witten was selected to his eighth Pro Bowl.[61] For the second time in his career, Witten was nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, this time winning the award and the $25,000 donation to his charity.[62] Overall, he finished the 2012 season with 110 receptions for 1,039 yards and three touchdowns.[63] He was ranked No. 41 among his peers on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2013.[64]

2013 season

On September 15, Witten surpassed Shannon Sharpe with the second most receptions as a tight end in NFL history[65]. His three catches during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs brought his career total to 817.[66] In the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles, he had 12 receptions for 135 yards.[67] He finished the 2013 season with 73 receptions for 851 yards and eight touchdowns.[68] He was named to the Pro Bowl for the ninth time in his career.[69] He was ranked 98th by his fellow players on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2014.[70]

2014 season

 
Witten at the 2015 Pro Bowl

In a Week 5 game against the Houston Texans on October 5, Witten became only the third tight end with 10,000 career receiving yards, joining Shannon Sharpe and Tony Gonzalez.[71]

Witten became the all-time leader for consecutive starts by a tight end after he started against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 6.[72][73] In that same game, he also became the second tight end in NFL history to reach 900 receptions.

Witten had 27 yards against the New York Giants to move his career receiving yards to 10,065 to pass Shannon Sharpe (10,060) for the second-most receiving yards by an NFL tight end.[74] In Week 16, Witten sprained his knee against the Indianapolis Colts but was still able to play in the season finale against the Washington Redskins.

That season, the Cowboys emphasized the running game and although his receiving production declined, his blocking was noticed while helping DeMarco Murray lead the NFL in rushing.[75][76] Witten finished with 60 receptions for 654 yards and five touchdowns.[77] He was named to his tenth career Pro Bowl for his 2014 season.[78] He was ranked 93rd by his peers on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2015.[79]

2015 season

 
Witten in 2015

On September 20, in the first game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Witten suffered a right knee injury and two sprained ankles but was able to only miss a play and a half.[80] On November 22, against the Miami Dolphins he became the franchise's iron man, playing his 196th consecutive game and surpassing Bob Lilly.[81] Two weeks later, in a Monday Night Football game against the Washington Redskins, Witten became the 12th player and second tight end in NFL history to reach 1,000 receptions. The only other tight end with 1,000 or more catches is Tony Gonzalez.[82] On December 27, against the Buffalo Bills, he set the Cowboys record with his 118th consecutive game with a reception, passing Michael Irvin.[83]

During the 2015 season, Witten was asked to be more involved in the blocking than usual, because of the team playing with four different starting quarterbacks with varying degrees of knowledge of the offense. He led the Cowboys with 77 receptions for 713 yards and three touchdowns.[84]

2016 season

Against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8, Witten caught the game-winning touchdown in overtime, making him the first player in franchise history to score in 14 seasons.[85] He finished the season 16 receiving yards shy of Michael Irvin's all-time franchise record. Overall, Witten finished the 2016 regular season with 69 receptions for 673 receiving yards and three touchdowns.[86] He caught his first career post-season touchdown from Dak Prescott in the Cowboys' 34–31 Divisional Round loss to the Green Bay Packers.[87]

2017 season

On March 28, 2017, Witten signed a four-year contract extension with the Cowboys through the 2021 season.[88]

During a Week 1 19–3 victory against the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football, Witten recorded the Cowboys' lone touchdown.[89] In addition, he passed Michael Irvin for most career receiving yards in franchise history and also became the third player in NFL history to have at least 150 catches against one team, joining Jerry Rice and Larry Fitzgerald. On September 17, in Week 2 against the Denver Broncos, Witten had ten receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown in the 42–17 defeat.[90] He finished the season with 63 receptions for 560 yards and five touchdowns, on his way to his 11th Pro Bowl, which tied a Cowboys record with Bob Lilly.[91][92][93]

Initial retirement

 
Witten (right) during his initial retirement in 2018

On April 26, 2018, reports surfaced that Witten was going to retire and accept a position as the lead analyst for ESPN's Monday Night Football telecasts. A week later, Witten officially announced his retirement and confirmed he would be joining Monday Night Football for the 2018 season.[94]

Dallas Cowboys (second stint)

On February 28, 2019, ESPN announced that Witten will return to the Cowboys on a one-year, $4.5 million deal, and leave his Monday Night Football position at the company.[95] In his return to the gridiron, Witten had three receptions for 15 yards and a receiving touchdown in the 35–17 victory over the New York Giants in the 2019 regular season opener for the Cowboys.[96]

NFL statistics

Regular season

Year Team Games Receiving Fumbles
GP GS Rec Yds Avg Lng TD Fum Lost
2003 DAL 15 7 35 347 9.9 36T 1 0 0
2004 DAL 16 15 87 980 11.3 42T 6 2 1
2005 DAL 16 16 66 757 11.5 34 6 0 0
2006 DAL 16 15 64 754 11.8 42 1 0 0
2007 DAL 16 16 96 1,145 11.9 53 7 1 1
2008 DAL 16 16 81 952 11.8 42 4 0 0
2009 DAL 16 16 94 1,030 11.0 69 2 0 0
2010 DAL 16 16 94 1,002 10.7 33 9 1 1
2011 DAL 16 16 79 942 11.9 64 5 1 0
2012 DAL 16 16 110 1,039 9.4 36 3 0 0
2013 DAL 16 16 73 851 11.7 34 8 0 0
2014 DAL 16 16 64 703 11.0 34 5 0 0
2015 DAL 16 16 77 713 9.3 35 3 1 1
2016 DAL 16 16 69 673 9.8 35 3 1 1
2017 DAL 16 16 63 560 8.9 28T 5 1 1
Career 239 229 1,152 12,448 10.8 69 68 8 6

Postseason

Year Team Games Receiving Fumbles
GP GS Rec Yds Avg Lng TD Fum Lost
2003 DAL 1 1 4 30 7.5 12 0 0 0
2006 DAL 1 1 3 57 19.0 32 0 1 1
2007 DAL 1 1 7 81 11.6 20 0 0 0
2009 DAL 2 2 14 125 8.9 22 0 0 0
2014 DAL 2 2 11 134 12.2 21 0 0 0
2016 DAL 1 1 6 59 9.8 15 1 0 0
Career 8 8 45 486 10.8 32 1 1 1

NFL records and achievements

Cowboys franchise records

  • Most career receptions: 1,152[100][98][99]
  • Most career receiving yards: 12,448[98][99]
  • Most receptions in a single game: 18 (October 28, 2012)
  • Most games played: 239[98][99]
  • Most consecutive games played: 235[98][99]
  • Most consecutive games started: 179[98][99]
  • First tight end to reach 1,000 receiving yards in a season
  • First tight end to have at least 65 receptions in consecutive seasons
  • First player in franchise history to score in 14 seasons

Personal life

Witten resides in Westlake, Texas, located in the Dallas – Fort Worth Metroplex, with his wife Michelle, an emergency room nurse at Dallas's Parkland Memorial Hospital,[101] and their four children, C.J., Cooper, Landry, and Hadley Grace.[102] Witten is a Christian, and appears in a video on I Am Second in which he talks about his faith.[103]

Witten wrote an opinion piece for ESPN, titled "How Twitter has become NFL locker room poison" in which he detailed the potential negative impact social media can have, particularly on younger players, from his personal experiences.[104]

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External links