Jason Witten has officially decided to forgo his playing career to join ESPN as its Monday Night Football analyst alongside Joe Tessitore, completing a total transformation of the booth. And you know what? It’s about time a high-profile Dallas Cowboys player transitioned into a marquee football announcing job.
Before Witten, we have to go all the way back to last year to find an example of a player from the popular franchise who was given a No. 1 gig without a lick of experience. The Tony Romo experiment was a smashing success and, the NFL being a copycat league, is ripe for replication. Of the four major NFL broadcast partners, only NBC has a lead analyst who did not star for Jerry Jones (Troy Aikman at FOX is the other). Cris Collinsworth is a man on an island.
Is this some vast conspiracy playing out right under our eyes, or is it mere coincidence? The latter seems more plausible to me, if only because the number of non-Cowboys enthusiasts far exceeds the number of Cowboys fans. Still, 75 percent is a high percentage.
Answering the question of Witten’s success is difficult. He is largely an unknown quantity. And for every Romo that works out, there’s a former player who can’t find his footing and gets demoted or washes out. ESPN is more like NBC in that there are not multiple broadcasts from which to pull up a replacement. The network does have a deeper bench than NBC with a healthy stock of in-house experts appearing on other platforms.
The most interesting element of the Witten news may be if he is the final piece of the puzzle. Considering how seriously he entertained playing this year, there has to be some concern he’ll get the bug and pull a Jay Cutler. Does ESPN plan to make Monday Night Football a three-man booth as insurance? It wouldn’t be the most surprising thing in the world.