FRISCO, Texas —
Before he became the ninth Dallas Cowboys coach in team history, Mike McCarthy took over as the 16th coach of the Green Bay Packers in 2006. For the next three offseasons, he had to work with future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre on whether or not the signal-caller wanted to call it a career.
When Favre finally retired in 2008, despite an emotional, tearful press conference, Favre was back at Packers training camp that summer. With no room for Favre, as McCarthy had turned the keys to the kingdom over to Aaron Rodgers, the Super Bowl-winning field general was traded to the New York Jets.
McCarthy has been through it before: aging, legendary icon of the franchise for over 15 years is ambivalent about his future. However, McCarthy was seasoned in this area and knew what to tell Dallas Cowboys tight end, Jason Witten.
"First thing out of his mouth was, 'If you want to go play, go play,'" Witten told reporters Tuesday night at The Star during the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award banquet.
Witten felt the urge at the end of the 2018 season, his first of retirement and one spent in the broadcast booth on ESPN Monday Night Football. The passion was still there, even though Witten will be 38 years old for his 17th pro season in September.
"That's something that I felt strongly about leaving ESPN and Monday Night Football," said Witten. "I had that feeling. I still do. I feel like I still have a lot to give to a football team. I know where I'm at in my career, a chance to win and help. I think the most important thing is finding the right fit.
"So, just [I] took a little bit of time to think about it and know what it's like to put your body through when you make a decision like that. But once I made a decision to go play, really all of my thoughts have been about that and really discussions, too."
The problem for Witten is that his career may not continue in Dallas, the team that drafted him in the third round of the 2003 NFL Draft from Tennessee. McCarthy and his new coaching staff are watching film and evaluating the roster. Even before they commenced those evaluations, there seemed to be no place for an old war horse like Witten, at least not atop the depth chart at tight end.
Nevertheless, even though Witten has spent his entire career with the Cowboys, leading the club in most games played with 255, he knows 256-plus of his career may be played in another NFL city; the Elizabethton, Tenn., native isn't naive about the business of pro football.
Said Witten: "I think anytime you explore that option, you want to find somewhere that's the right fit, somewhere you have a chance to win, and somewhere you can help contribute as a tight end, first and foremost, and as a leader and the right coaching staff. I'm proud of the way I play. I think I'll have good opportunities."
However, Witten's first focus is to convince owner, president, and general manager Jerry Jones along with chief operating officer Stephen Jones that he still belongs in Dallas.
Unlike Favre, Witten isn't entering the offseason with ambivalence or retiring to only un-retire. The 11-time Pro Bowler is determined to play in 2020. The unknown aspect is which of the other 31 NFL teams may be willing to take him and allow him the chance to contribute at a high level.
Do you think Jason Witten will play in 2020, and if so, will it be for the Dallas Cowboys? Share your thoughts on the future Hall of Fame TE with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.