Many Cowboys fans were quietly expecting big things from Blake Jarwin this year. After signing a big four-year deal that cemented his status as the team’s new top tight end, and with all the attention going to the prestigious wide receiver corps and Ezekiel Elliott, Jarwin was bound to get some easy chances at big production.
All of that was dashed on Sunday night when the athletic tight end reportedly tore his ACL. Expected to miss the whole season, Dallas is now down to just Dalton Schultz, Blake Bell, and undrafted rookie Sean McKeon at the position. They might be confident in going with those three for the rest of the year, but if not there are two intriguing veteran options on the market who could fit in nicely with this offense.
Delanie Walker carved out a really nice career for himself. As a sixth-round pick in 2006 from Central Missouri, Walker was the backup tight end to Vernon Davis for seven seasons in San Francisco. Despite averaging just 30 targets a year, Walker put up 123 total catches for 1,465 yards and eight touchdowns.
He later signed with the Titans to be their starting tight end prior to the 2013 season. In his first five years in Tennessee, Walker amassed 356 catches for 4,156 yards and 26 touchdowns. He had 800+ yards in four of those five seasons and went over 1,000 yards in the 2015 season.
Ankle injuries the last two years limited Walker to just eight total games, and Tennessee released him in the offseason as a result. At 36-years-old, Walker is far from being an impact signing. But it’s not like his actual performance was declining, like another aging tight end the Cowboys may know. Walker was coming off three consecutive Pro Bowl seasons when the injuries started popping up.
Walker has had time to heal, not playing since November of last year, and should be fully recovered from his ankle injuries. More than that, he fits the profile of a legitimate receiving threat down the seam that Jarwin posed, although Walker is almost definitely not as athletic. Still, he’s a proven commodity who could come in and contribute right away. And he’s got familiarity with both Mike Nolan and Jim Tomsula from his days in San Francisco.
Charles Clay is lesser known than Walker, but those who know him well know the ability he has. Clay played fullback at Tulsa before being drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the sixth round in 2011. In an attempt to capitalize on his athleticism, Miami turned him into more of an H-back, using him as a blocker on run downs but also utilizing him in the passing game. Clay racked up 161 catches for 1,809 yards and 14 touchdowns in his four years with the Dolphins.
He signed with the Bills in 2015 to play tight end exclusively and continued to be productive. He had over 500 receiving yards his first three consecutive seasons in Buffalo, setting two different franchise records in the process. His production dropped significantly in 2018 as rookie quarterback Josh Allen struggled to adapt to the NFL. Still, Clay finished his four-year stint with the Bills having totaled 178 catches for 1,822 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
Clay spent last season with the Cardinals, operating out of first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense and working with yet another rookie passer in Kyler Murray. Clay saw a career low for targets (24), a byproduct of the Air Raid’s heavy focus on wide receivers in place of tight ends, but he still caught 18 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown.
At 31-years-old, Clay still has something left in the tank. His prior experience as a fullback and H-back would make him an ideal fit in Dallas, where Mike McCarthy already sought to use his tight ends in a similar manner. And Clay’s experience as a forgotten man in Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense would transfer over here, where Clay would be the forgotten man among a talented receiver corps.
Both Walker and Clay represent some very affordable opportunities to bring in veteran tight ends who pose a threat down the middle of the field. While Schultz and company may be well-equipped to pick up the slack, it doesn’t hurt to look elsewhere as well.