The majority of people connected to the Dallas Cowboys, either professionally or by fandom, are thrilled to know that QB Dak Prescott is returning for Sunday’s bout with the Detroit Lions. But perhaps no individual should be more excited than TE Dalton Schultz, whose 2022 season has yet to even get off the ground.
In four games so far this year, Schultz has amassed just nine catches for 80 yards. That’s the lowest per-game production for the tight end, playing right now on the franchise tag, that he’s had since he was buried behind Jason Witten, Geoff Swaim, and Blake Jarwin during his first two seasons.
Schultz got himself tagged in 2022 after hitting career highs a year ago. His 78 catches was third-best in the league, sixth in yards with 808, and his eight touchdowns were just one short of the NFL leaders.
With the Cowboys’ passing game hamstrung by Dak Prescott’s absence these last five weeks, there hasn’t been much pie to go around to the receivers. But Schultz’s share has gone woefully below that of other options, virtually disappearing from the offense in recent weeks.
That’s partially due to a knee issue that’s caused Schultz to miss Dallas’ games against the Giants and Eagles, and limited him when he said suited up. But even when Schultz played on 90% of the Cowboys’ offensive snaps in the Week 4 win over Washington, he was only targeted three times and with no catches.
There’s been a clear lack of chemistry between Schultz and backup QB Cooper Rush when the TE has been on the field. And his lack of impact was magnified last Sunday night when Rush connected with rookie Jake Ferguson for a touchdown.
Nearing the halfway point of the season, Schultz needs a dramatic turnaround with free agency back on his horizon in 2023. But in addition to getting healthy, which he appears to be closer to this week, he needs Dak Prescott back on the field to reopen the offense.
In Dallas’ season-opening loss to Tampa bay, even with Prescott having a terrible game otherwise, Schultz finished with seven catches for 62 yards on nine targets. It’s the kind of production that we’ve grown accustomed to from Schultz and what got him the franchise tag this past offseason.
While we can easily blame Dak’s absence and the knee injury for Schultz’s trouble now, there were concerns about how he’d fare in 2022 even before those factors appeared. Once WR Amari Cooper was discarded in a trade to the Browns, Schultz moved up in the hierarchy of Cowboys receiving options. While this could mean more targets, it could also mean more attention from opposing defenses.
There was a healthy debate early in the offseason as to whether or not Schultz deserved the franchise tag. Was he really a difference-maker in the Cowboys’ offense or just a beneficiary of its league-leading production in 2021? This season was going to be a better test of his true value, and a critical one before he rejoins the free agent market in 2023. So far, for various reasons, it’s off to a very damaging start.
Assuming that Schultz is healthy enough to take advantage, Dak’s return should get him closer to his former self. Schultz isn’t a dynamic athlete; he relies on execution and chemistry to produce, which will naturally improve with Prescott at quarterback
With 11 games still to play this season, Dalton Schultz still has time to restore his reputation. The pressure is on with his contract situation, and especially with Dallas’ younger and cheaper options flashing potential over the last few weeks.