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Cowboys TE Jason Witten retires after 15 seasons

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Jason Witten will, in fact, hang up his cleats.

The Dallas Cowboys' all-time great informed Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and coach Jason Garrett he will retire to join the Monday Night Football crew, NFL Network's Mike Garafolo and NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, per sources informed of the decision.

ESPN first reported his pending retirement.

A teary-eyed Witten, alongside Jones, Garrett and plenty of current and former teammates, announced the news Thursday afternoon during an emotional news conference at The Star in Frisco.

"There's an old saying in pro football: The circus doesn't stay in town forever," Witten said. "And when you're young, I think it takes on a meaning that, when your opportunity comes, grab it. And as you get older, I think you realize there's a deeper meaning. No man knows when his time has come to walk away. And I'm no different. It's been said, whether right or wrong, it's better three hours too soon, than a minute too late. The man who insists on seeing the perfect clearness before he decides, he never decides. Accept life, and you cannot accept regret.

"After much self-reflection, prayer and faith, today I've decided that the time has come for me to pass the torch to the next generation of Dallas Cowboys and retire from the National Football League."

Witten's decision comes six days after it became known the future Hall of Famer was expected to retire and join the booth. The tight end reportedly debated the decision over the weekend, with the Cowboys' brass attempting to convince him to return for one more season.

The 35-year-old, however, ultimately chose to immediately transition into one of the best TV jobs in sports.

Witten ends his career as one of the best tight ends in NFL history, totaling 1,152 catches for 12,448 yards and 68 touchdowns. Witten walks away ranked fourth all-time in receptions, behind only Jerry Rice (1,549), Tony Gonzalez (1,325) and Larry Fitzgerald (1,234).

An 11-time Pro Bowler, Witten holds several NFL records, including most receptions in a single season by a tight end (110 in 2012) and most catches in a game by a tight end (18 in 2012). The sure-handed Witten also owns a cornucopia of team records, including most career receptions, most career receiving yards and most consecutive seasons with a reception, among others. Witten's 68 career receiving touchdowns ranks third in Cowboys history and fifth all-time among tight ends in NFL history.

Witten joined the Cowboys as a third-round pick in 2003 out of Tennessee, quickly growing into one of the most reliable pass-catchers in the NFL. After starting his career with a revolving quarterback situation that included Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde, and Drew Bledsoe, Witten found a groove as Tony Romo's security blanket. Witten and Romo became one of the NFL's most prolific duos, as well as BFFs, leading to the tight end's two All-Pro honors (2007, 2010). Romo-to-Witten on third down became an agonizing nightmare that regularly woke defensive coordinators from their sleep.

As happens with the majority of NFL players, Witten's play began to decline with age after 15 seasons. His 560 yards receiving in 2017 was the lowest since his rookie campaign, and his usual stellar blocking began to fall off.

Witten's retirement leaves Dallas with young question marks at the tight end position in Rico Gathers, Blake Jarwin and Geoff Swaim. Only Swaim has an NFL catch to his name -- nine total. Losing the franchise stalwart also takes away a locker-room leader for a team in transition.

With Witten picking up a MNF mic and the Cowboys jettisoning Dez Bryant, it really is a new era in Dallas.

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