For the first time in over a decade, there’ll be a new voice doing color commentary during ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcasts. Jason Witten, the longtime Cowboys tight end, will be in the booth for Monday games this season.
The news was first reported during the NFL Draft, but it was never official and left speculation that the Cowboys might be able to convince him to play again. But now it’s official. ESPN reported it Thursday morning.
ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported on Friday:
When the news first broke, Jerry Jones Jones put the brakes on it being a done deal.
“He has some things to think about and discuss with his family from a professional perspective. He also told me that those things are going to require a few more days of consideration, at least through the weekend,” Jones said.
“He has not made any decisions that are definite at this time. We have no announcement today as it pertains to Jason’s future other than to say that he’s a wonderful and valued member of our organization and our family.”
The MNF job was previously handled by Jon Gruden, but the 54-year old returned to coaching when he was hired by the Oakland Raiders in January.
Witten should be a good fit to replace him. He’s long been a favorite of NFL media members for his candor and detailed commentary about the sport. He’s well-suited to talk directly to fans from the booth, and that he’s coming straight from the field to the booth will give his analysis a helpful currency. Tony Romo thrived on CBS last year, in large part because the NFL Romo played in was more similar to the current game, stylistically, than the league older color commentators played in. Witten should bring the same updated perspective.
It’s a surprising move. Witten said 10 days earlier that he wasn’t retiring.
Jason Witten said he’s playing for the Cowboys this year. No interest in taking a TV job right now. “Hopefully I can play until I’m 40. Just taking it one year at a time.”— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) April 18, 2018
And the report caught quarterback Dak Prescott off guard:
Dak Prescott @nflnetwork re: Jason Witten- “I’m just as surprised as everyone.”— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) April 27, 2018
Gruden first started in the Monday Night Football booth in 2009 and spent nine seasons on the job. In his first three seasons, he shared space with Ron Jaworski, who also served as color commentator for ESPN. Prior to the addition of Gruden, ESPN personality Torn Kornheiser was in the booth for three seasons.
Through the years, ESPN has tried former players, former coaches, analysts, and even comedian Dennis Miller in the role.
It’ll be a fresh duo for ESPN in 2018 with Joe Tessitore taking over play-by-play duties for Sean McDonough. That’s no sweat off McDonough’s back as he admitted in a recent radio appearance that “it wasn’t a tremendous amount of fun the last two years.”
Part of the reason McDonough wasn’t happy with the job is that ESPN is often stuck with poor games due to the lack of flexible scheduling for the Monday night slot. Unless that changes, it’ll likely be on Tessitore and Witten to make boring games entertaining in 2018 and beyond.