ESPN’s months-long hunt for a Monday Night Football game analyst to replace Jon Gruden might be nearing its end.
NFL insider Chris Mortensen reported Friday that longtime Cowboys tight end Jason Witten plans to retire from the game and join the MNF booth, but that he will consult Dallas owner Jerry Jones before making a final decision.
Jason Witten is planning to retire after 15 years to join ESPN's new Monday Night Football broadcast team as a lead analyst but will meet today with owner Jerry Jones before making his decision final, per sources.
— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) April 27, 2018
Witten had been floated as a candidate for the Monday Night Football opening (as well as for Fox’s Thursday Night Football void), and had reportedly auditioned for the position, but until Friday we had little reason to believe he was a front-runner in a crowded field. With Peyton Manning and Brett Favre out of the running, other reported candidates have included Matt Hasselbeck, Randy Moss, Louis Riddick, Rex Ryan, Booger McFarland, Kurt Warner, Joe Thomas and Greg Olsen.
But it seems as though, one way or another, Witten has risen to the top.
Assuming he follows through and accepts the job and partners with Joe Tessitore on MNF, Witten will find himself in a similar position to the one his former teammate Tony Romo faced last year, when he retired somewhat abruptly to call games for CBS’ top broadcast team. As it turned out, Romo’s lack of experience didn’t hold him back much, as he quickly became popular for his pre-snap predictions and genuine reactions (even if the shtick wore a bit thin as the season progressed).
Even with Witten onboard, ESPN won’t necessarily be done hunting for game analysts. The network has used a three-man Monday night booth before and might intend to do so again, given Witten’s lack of broadcast reps. Producers could consider pairing Witten with someone like Riddick, who brings a different perspective as a former executive, has plenty of experience on air and has expressed interest in the job. Witten would be the splashy hire ESPN has been shooting for, while Riddick (or someone with a similar skillset) would serve as a steady presence next to him.
More information about ESPN’s plans, as well as Witten’s, should come out soon. It has taken a while, but ESPN is on its way to a Monday Night Football booth.