When Jason Witten decided to leave the Dallas Cowboys — the only NFL team he had played for since being drafted in 2003 — in March and sign with the Las Vegas Raiders, he knew things would be different.
Yet, getting used to a new franchise and new surrounding in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic has made Witten’s adjustment even more unusual.
“You play 16 years, you think you’ve seen it all and then 2020 happens and here we are having this conversation in a Zoom press conference,” the veteran tight end told reporters on Monday. “I think there’s a lot of changes and a lot of challenges. You try to roll with the punches. It was different learning a new system … Then obviously, getting out here. Coming out with some of the workouts that Derek [Carr] had, getting to know some guys. It’s a locker room still. There’s going to be changes. It is different. It’s a different experience for me putting on that uniform the other day for the first time, but I just try to make the most of those and really a lot of joy and passion to have this opportunity.”
It didn’t take Witten — who didn’t play in 2018 because he was part of the ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcast team — long to realize his time in Dallas was up in free agency. Gruden and the Raiders made a much bigger push for Witten than the new coaching staff in Dallas did.
He quickly embraced the idea of playing for the Raiders.
“It’s just an honor and privilege to be a Vegas Raider and be a part of this organization and have the opportunity to play with coach Gruden and for [Owner] Mark Davis, [GM] Mike Mayock, it’s a talented young team. I’m excited to join them,” said Witten, who will likely be a shoo-in for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “I think when you get to this age, it’s all about the fit and the role and it made a lot of sense for me. Dallas will always be such an important part of my career. You spend 16 years somewhere, I’ll always have special moments there. In this business, you have to find the right fit and opportunity, and this made a lot of sense here in Vegas.”
At this point in his career, Witten knows he will be a role player for the Raiders and an option behind standout Raiders’ starting tight end Darren Waller. Witten will probably be used in short-yardage and red-zone situations. He was effective for the Cowboys last year he had 63 catches for an 8.4 per catch average.
“I think it will evolve as we unfold,” Witten said of his role in Las Vegas. “I think right now, obviously it’s a talented tight end room. I certainly, in my career, had a lot of great mentors and role models, coaches and players alike that showed me the game, given me input and tried to help me take that next step. It starts with Darren Waller and what kind of year he had last catch year and the future, Foster Moreau being a young player, and I come in. Coach Gruden has had a way with veteran players in later parts of their career and I certainly understand that. I’m just really excited for the opportunity knowing that fit and role is going to change and it’s probably going to be different from what I’ve experienced throughout my career.”