When the Dallas Cowboys decided to part ways with future Hall of Fame tight end Jason Witten this offseason, it was seen by the majority as a positive move. Witten, at age 37, clearly was not the tight end he once was. In 2019 he totaled his lowest receiving yards in a season since his rookie year in 2003.
A big factor in the decision to let Witten go was that Dallas re-signed Blake Jarwin. The tight end agreed to a four-year deal at the beginning of the free-agency period. It’s clear that the Cowboys feel that Jarwin can come in, and at the very least, match the production that Witten had last season. In Mike McCarthy’s offense in Green Bay, he liked to have versatile, athletic tight ends who can make plays down the field, and Jarwin fits that role perfectly.
So after Dallas re-signed him, they could have decided they were set at the position. The Cowboys could have rolled with Jarwin and Dalton Schultz, and let Cole Hikutini and another draftee/UDFA battle it out for the third spot, but they didn’t.
Just a week after they re-signed Jarwin, Dallas went out and inked former Kansas City Chief’s tight end Blake Bell to a one-year deal, worth nearly two million. Bell is one of five former Oklahoma Sooner’s on the Dallas roster, and has played with four different teams during his five-year career.
In college at Oklahoma, Bell actually played some quarterback during his first three seasons. Although he was not used much as a passer, he did do some serious damage on the ground, rushing for 24 touchdowns. Bell was almost exclusively used in short-yardage situations.
QB/TE Blake Bell 3 yard TD run! pic.twitter.com/2A51nXDsw1— Lifelong TOMpa Bay Buccaneers fan (@FTBeard1) March 30, 2020
Bell was not able to translate a pretty impressive college career into much NFL production, but last season in Kansas City, he did catch eight passes for 67 yards and scored a touchdown against the Houston Texans in the playoffs.
Another variation they like to run is to the tight end out of the backfield. Mahomes reads the safety creeping into the box. If he runs with the wheel, he'll give to the RB on the inside zone. The safety plays the run so Mahomes hits a wide open Blake Bell for the TD. pic.twitter.com/OxyaJOWWWG— rich (@richjmadrid) January 31, 2020
Despite how impressive some of his college tape is, Dallas is not going to use Bell to run the football, or probably much in the passing game either, but there is a big way he can help their offense. When he was in Kansas City, Bell earned the nickname, “The Belldozer” due to his ability in the blocking game.
Woo, Blake Bell went hunting on that end around run by Mecole Hardman pic.twitter.com/5Gp4P9MwWV— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) January 19, 2020
Mahomes with the boot, puts Jaquiski Tartt in a compromising position. No right answer here for him, and K.C. leads 7-3 with 31 seconds left in the first quarter. Nice job by Anthony Sherman and Blake Bell of firing off, down-blocking and selling it. pic.twitter.com/CO5HUWdSzq— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) February 3, 2020
Last season, all three of the Dallas tight ends scored less than a 70 overall blocking rating, according to Pro Football Focus. Witten, who was the Cowboys main tight end used in blocking situation, recorded a run blocking grade of 60.1, 48th out of all tight ends in the entire NFL. Bell on the other hand, recorded a blocking grade of 69 or higher in all but five games throughout the year.
With McCarthy at the helm, Dallas likely will move away some from the traditional blocking tight end role we have seen with the past regime, but that does not mean there will not be opportunities for Bell to see the field. In the past few seasons, the Cowboys have really been hit or miss on short-yardage situations, especially in the red zone.
Last year Ezekiel Elliott had a 33.3% touchdown rate when rushing inside the 10-yard line, and Dallas scored a touchdown on just 31 of their 54 trips inside the red zone. While that’s a middle of the pack number, if you look at the teams who converted red zone trips into touchdowns the best, seven of the top ten in the league made the playoffs last season.
One other aspect of Bell’s game that can’t be overlooked is his ability to play special teams. Last year in Kansas City, he saw action on just under 50% of their special teams snaps, that was in addition to playing on roughly 38% of the offensive snaps. Bell was a very useful piece for the Chiefs on offense and special teams.
Blake Bell is not going to play a huge role in the Dallas offense, but if he can step in for Jason Witten and provide more in pass and run blocking and contribute a little catching the football, Dallas could have a better tight end combination in 2020 than they did in 2019.