I feel bad for Jason Witten. If you don’t, I get it. He’s well compensated for a job that sounds pretty great: traveling the country to watch football games and talk about them.
The problem is that Witten is really not good at it — and that’s pretty surprising.
For his entire adult life he’s been one of the best football players in the world. After 15 years, 1,152 receptions, and 12,448 receiving yards with the Dallas Cowboys, Witten retired to join the Monday Night Football booth. It seemed like a natural fit for a guy who has talked and thought about football forever.
But while his playing career will probably land him in the Hall of Fame, we can’t all be Tony Romo. Talking about football with your friends on the couch is one thing — having to avoid any dead air with insightful comments and never tripping over your words is another.
Even if you don’t have anything to say, you better say something. Otherwise, it sounds like this:
The MNF crew is awful, but they do make me laugh a lot— Adam Stites (@AdamStites_) October 16, 2018
“Kittle is really flashing today, isn’t he?”
A couple months into his new career, Witten hasn’t been good at the job at all. Let’s review:
Generally, if an insightful breakdown has happened during a Monday Night Football broadcast in 2018, it has come from Booger McFarland — a former Buccaneers defensive tackle who is providing his analysis from a chair strapped on top of a cart on the sideline. Why isn’t he standing next to Witten and play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore? Who knows.
Maybe moving McFarland up to the booth to take over for Witten would be a good idea for ESPN. It certainly wouldn’t bother fans who have had to deal with their view getting blocked:
While McFarland breaking things down on the sideline, Witten has been upstairs giving some pretty poor attempts at using the telestrator:
Uhh, he didn't do any of that stuff you just said, Jason Witten pic.twitter.com/gkxfAtsCJE— Michael Trillbon (@DavidInAlief) August 21, 2018
Witten said this was Tampa-2 pic.twitter.com/akU1OxLxMH— Syed Schemes (@syedschemes) October 30, 2018
During a Week 4 game, Witten made it clear that he’s a fan of the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce, who he called the best tight end in the NFL. And maybe it was a tight end sticking up for a tight end, but Witten really wanted Kelce to get the ball:
Witten every single play:— Frank Passalacqua (@randomfrankp) October 2, 2018
“The tight end is open!!! He’s got Kelce open!”
*shows replay, 3 guys are draped all over Kelce
Jason Witten just said "he's got Kelce!" when Kelce wasn't even remotely open lmaaooooo— Jordan Zirm (@clevezirm) October 2, 2018
It goes beyond the Xs and Os. Witten just doesn’t seem to think much about the analysis he’s giving.
In Week 5, he praised the Saints’ 28-year-old running back, Mark Ingram, on the ability to get better at an age when other players slow down. The compliment came just seconds after Tessitore spoke about Ingram getting suspended for performance-enhancing drugs.
There was also this in Week 11:
“This is why Gurley is so good” - Jason Witten after a 1-yard loss— Andy Holloway (@andyholloway) November 20, 2018
It seems Witten is talking without doing much thinking beforehand.
Witten would probably be better off sticking to literal comments instead of venturing into the world of figurative language. In Week 6, he said the 49ers can’t keep “kicking themselves in the foot.”
Jason Witten gets paid for this pic.twitter.com/6g3q0z41sV— Andrew Joseph (@AndyJ0seph) October 16, 2018
"I've seen that truck a little bit" ??— Gold And Blue Zone (@GoldAndBlueZone) October 16, 2018
What is Jason Witten talking about? pic.twitter.com/W9jCGsqdM2
And Aaron Rodgers “pulled a rabbit out of his head.”
Holy hell!— Jay Tust (@KTVBSportsGuy) October 16, 2018
Aaron Rodgers just tied the game AND pulled a rabbit out of his HEAD, according to Jason Witten!!! pic.twitter.com/1DGE7mGWDJ
Keep in mind: Those three are just one game’s worth of mistakes! At least Witten took his last one in stride:
Aaron Rodgers pulls another rabbit out of his head!! ♂️ ♂️— Jason Witten (@JasonWitten) October 16, 2018
Even when Witten doesn’t say things that make you go cross-eyed, just speaking, in general, is sometimes a challenge. Is he calling Rodgers “Sam Rodgers” here, or is he just stumbling his way through “Aaron”? It’s probably bad either way if we can’t tell:
“Every possession is so critical when you’re going up against Sam Rodgers.” - Jason Witten pic.twitter.com/lHAUxvdbHI— Patrick Keane (@phkeane) October 16, 2018
What’s worse is Tessitore had correctly pronounced Trevathan about 15 seconds before Witten gave it a shot:
When he said the NFL made a mistake by making roughing the passer rules “a little bit to the left wing,” it brought a wave of criticism. But Witten explained to the Washington Post that he only said it because talking is hard.
“It was a mix-up in words. I was saying the pendulum was moving to the left and I guess the nerves of being a rookie — I mean trust me I would never get into rushing the passer and politics. People will tell you that’s not my style. That wasn’t an ulterior motive or anything like that at all. I told the guys after — I didn’t realize until after the segment. I was like, “Did that come across like I think it came across?” I fumbled my words, lesson learned. I hope you were trying to understand what I was trying to say. The league just got a little out of whack when they were making the rule. They’re going to tighten it back up and be able to adjust it. It wasn’t left wing, obviously. It was an honest mistake. Most people realized that, I think.”
When he’s not pronouncing names wrong or using questionable idioms, he still just stumbles through simple sentences:
congrats to todd gurley on being the "leading leader" in rushing, per jason witten— rvb (@justRVB) November 20, 2018
If speaking English well and tripping over a few pronunciations was Witten’s only problem, that’d be fine. Those are things that a color commentator could get better at as he gets more experience on the job. But unfortunately for Witten, there aren’t many other signs that he’ll be good even if he cleans that part up.
Flubs aside, he’s just plain boring to listen to.
Romo’s fortune telling for CBS has been impressive, but the best thing he brings is over-the-top enthusiasm. It’s crystal clear Romo thinks football is the greatest thing on the planet and you can’t help but enjoy what’s happening too.
Before Witten joined the Monday Night Football, ESPN had Gruden — a goofy coach who loves fullbacks, “grinders,” and whatever props he could get his hands on.
Witten, on the other hand, has been dull and struggling with a Ricky Bobby “I don’t know what to do with my hands” problem.
He was a great tight end for a long time and hopefully he’s remembered for that, because Witten is making us miss Gruden. The Raiders’ coach spent nine seasons in the ESPN booth, but now he’s in Oakland burning the Raiders down. Can everyone please have a do-over?