As we dive into part four of our offseason roster breakdown, we examine the tight ends for the Dallas Cowboys. Jason Witten has been the Cowboys’ Cowboy during his storied career with the franchise. Since his arrival in 2003 as a 20-year-old under Bill Parcells, he has manned the tight end position like few before him. Let’s take a closer look at the tight ends.
Let’s make this quick. Jason Witten is an all-time great and will be a Ring of Honor recipient and Hall of Famer in the future. Dallas’ primary game plan over the next few years must be to give Witten every chance to win a Super Bowl and to eventually find a replacement for him.
Escobar was drafted in the second round of the 2013 season by the Cowboys after they failed to develop fellow second-rounders Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett. In four seasons in Dallas, Escobar has struggled as he accumulated only 30 catches for 330 yards and 8 touchdowns. He enters the 2016 off-season as a free agent for the first time in his career. Similar to Fasano (2006 Draft) and Bennett (2008 Draft), Escobar (2013 Draft) will not be re-signed making it three failed second-round picks at the position.
Hanna was drafted in the sixth round of the 2012 draft after the Cowboys lost Martellus Bennett in free agency. Hanna has shown flashes of potential in the passing game for the Cowboys but his 2016 season ended due to a knee injury just months after he signed a three-year extension last season. He will remain in Dallas as a special teams player next year and will compete for the backup tight end job.
Swaim was drafted in the seventh round in the 2015 draft to add tight end depth. Swaim is a blocking tight end who played sparingly in 2016 before being placed on IR in November after a pectoral tear. He will continue rehab and keep his place on the roster as a blocking tight end. He did show some pass-catching ability last season so he could supplant Hanna for the backup spot.
The Rico Gathers experiment will continue in Dallas because there is no reason it should not. He is inexpensive, under contract and potentially has great upside. Look for Gathers to switch positions to defensive line if his pass-catching does not improve.
Jason Witten: First String - The future Hall of Famer provides experience and reliability to the potent offensive attack.
Gavin Escobar: Not Re-Signed - There is simply no interest in keeping the former second-round draft pick.
James Hanna: Second String - Hanna will remain with the Cowboys as they see how he rehabs from knee surgery. What will be interesting is whether he solidifies himself as the legitimate backup or whether it forces Dallas to look in the draft (next year). It may all depend on just how well he recovers from the knee injury.
Geoff Swaim: Third String - Swaim is coming off a pectoral tear last year. His presence as a blocking tight end will remain in place. He has shown potential and may rise up the ranks if he continues to improve.
Rico Gathers: Practice Squad - Gathers signed a reserve/futures contract in January 2017 to continue shoring up his skillset. Look for Dallas to convert him to defensive lineman depending on his progression as a pass catcher and/or Dallas’s need on the defensive line.
Draft - Expect the Cowboys to dip into the draft again for a possible big-time replacement to Witten down the road. Don’t be surprised if the Cowboys use a high draft pick again on a tight end.