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Jason Witten’s legacy looks a bit different after un-retiring, a risk he took that hasn’t worked so far

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Should Witten have just stayed retired?

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Odds are high that you believe The Dark Knight to be one of the greatest movies of all time. Let’s assume that you do (if you haven’t seen it somehow, go watch it immediately).

There’s a line in TDK that hits pretty deep when you think about it. It is noted when talking about a fallen friend turned from good to bad: “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

This happens to a lot of people in different walks of life and particularly in the world of sports. There is a fine line to be reached where you can live forever as a hero, but that’s a fate that so few people get to meet. It’s a fate that Jason Witten tried to reach, but one year into his un-retirement his legacy is still being formed.

It’s kind of crazy how Cowboys fans feel about Jason Witten

This isn’t said to say that anybody who wants to see the Cowboys move on from Jason Witten is wrong to feel that way, but it’s not the way it should have gone.

We are talking about Jason Witten here. He holds numerous franchise records. His name will undoubtedly decorate the Ring of Honor someday and earn the gold jacket and bronze bust that come with enshrinement in Canton, Ohio. He is without question one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history and most beloved players in the history of the Dallas Cowboys.

As true as all of this is... it is also true that there is a large case to make for the Cowboys moving on from him.

Witten spoke publicly on Tuesday night and iterated a desire to return to America’s Team. Take a look at the tweet that the mothership provided with the news. Moreover take a look at the replies to the tweet. There are plenty of people pushing Witten out of the door.

This subject is fascinating to me as we are now living in the time where Witten has crossed over into becoming a “villain” in the eyes of many fans. I tweeted about this idea on Tuesday night and got responses like this one that talked about how Witten is inhibiting the growth of players behind him. That is objectively true but the fact that it is being said out loud about him is a point that nobody ever thought we’d reach.

Witten retired as the player the Cowboys let down, now he’s the one that’s held on too long

Everybody wants to be the player that wins a Super Bowl and walks off into retirement with confetti on their shoulder. Not everybody gets to have the fairy tale ending, but the end in general is a lot easier to swallow if you’ve won a Lombardi at one point or another.

Obviously Jason Witten has never won a Super Bowl, and if that’s the case for a player, let’s say even Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald as a different example, there is another archetype that is worth being - the guy that the team let down. (We do note Fitzgerald actually got to play in Super Bowl).

DeMarcus Ware and Tony Romo are heralded by many Cowboys fans - rightfully so, I might add - for their accomplishments with the team. They gave their all, and while Ware ultimately did win a Super Bowl for himself while a member of the Denver Broncos, he and Tony Romo are viewed as players that the Cowboys (Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, Jason Garrett, etc.) let down. The organization just couldn’t elevate the elite talent that they had during that time.

If you cannot win a Super Bowl then this is not a bad role to fill honestly. Being the player that the team let down lets your legend live as over time people will talk about how you were enough but the team failed you. That’s who Jason Witten became when he retired two years ago.

The reality of Witten returning last offseason was that he risked that. He risked his future in this role in an effort to win a Super Bowl. Who can fault him for that, though? The chance at becoming the person who can hit the walk-off home run is tempting and Witten had every right to go for it when the opportunity presented itself to him.

Unfortunately, the 2019 Dallas Cowboys were a huge disappointment. The team underperformed, and ultimately underdelivered, so much that their head coach wasn’t brought back. That is currently the final taste that every Cowboys fan has in their mouth regarding Witten which is a long way from the day that news first broke of him calling it a career (go back and read the comments from then for a refresher if you’d like).

None of this is being said to point out how Witten was wrong, right, or anything in between. He made a choice and the results are what they are, but the observation is that his career feels far from as shiny as it did during his farewell press conference at The Star. The risk did not work out one year in.

It’s obviously possible that the “risk” Witten took in returning to professional football ultimately does pay off. Maybe he plays on a team, the Dallas Cowboys hypothetically, that wins it all in 2020. At that point he’ll get to reach the rare point of living forever as a hero.

Right now the hard-to-swallow reality is that Witten is regarded by many as someone the Dallas Cowboys should move on from. Time comes for us all, and often it comes rather quickly.