The deadline for NFL teams to place the franchise tag on players is next Tuesday, March 8th, and as of now nobody has crossed any line of sorts. Generally speaking tags come down mostly in the eleventh hour. The Dallas Cowboys have spent the last few years stuck in quarterback contract negotiations with Dak Prescott where the tag had to come into play, 2022 is the first time in a while where it truly exists as an opportunity for them to use in a more creative way.
Dallas has a number of players set to hit free agency but the most logical candidates for the tag are defensive end Randy Gregory and tight end Dalton Schultz. While nobody wants to see Gregory walk in free agency the likelihood of tagging him seems low.
The case may be a bit different for Schultz, though.
The case for placing the franchise tag on Dalton Schultz
Placing the tag on Dalton Schultz is really only an intriguing option because of the value associated with it. Tight ends aren’t exactly breaking the bank across the league which has the value lower than most other positions.
Schultz isn’t exactly young as he has four years of NFL experience, but if the Cowboys don’t want to totally commit to him long-term then the price of the tag makes it a legitimate conversation. PFF outlined this in their plan for the Cowboys offseason:
Currently, the tight end franchise tag is a steal in the NFL. While the cost to tag a wide receiver is $19.1 million in 2022, the cost for a tight end is just $10.8 million.
Schultz broke out last season as an all-around productive player. At the halfway point of the season, he had All-Pro aspirations before cooling off a little down the stretch. A one-year deal would keep the elite playmakers that made Dallas so difficult to stop at their best intact and would also buy the team some insurance in case Schultz is a one-year wonder.
Consider that the APY on Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts is $8.2M for how insanely low the value is for a franchise tag at the position. $10.8M is certainly expensive, but it is worth it for a legitimate offensive weapon like Schultz is, considering PFF’s point about wide receivers and the tag value there.
Schultz finished 2021 with over 800 yards and eight touchdowns receiving. It was the first time that a Cowboys tight end did this since Jason Witten in 2013. Schultz played in 17 regular season games as the league expanded entering last season.
Part of the reason to give this line of thought serious consideration is there is not exactly an obvious answer as to what the tight end position in Dallas looks like if/when Schultz walks. Blake Jarwin is the likely answer, but he has 12 receptions for 108 yards and two touchdowns in nine games played since signing his extension in the early days of 2020 and dealing with injuries after. He would be the choice, but it would be one that would carry some questions.
The 2022 NFL Draft isn’t stacked at the top with tight ends, making finding a good one a tough proposition. Dane Brugler recently noted that it might be the weakest position in the class:
The weakest positions this year, it’s a weird tight end year. It’s a really deep group. We might have 12-15 tight ends drafted on Day 3. But I didn’t have a tight end in my top 50. We’ll have three or four tight ends drafted on Day 2. The strength of the group is in the fourth round. That’s where you’re going to find your Dalton Schultz-type guys. It’s not a strong year if you’re looking for a tight end in the first round or even, in my opinion, somewhere in the top 50.
Schultz himself was a fourth-round pick whom the Cowboys found in the immediate days after Jason Witten’s retirement (the first one). Obviously they could get lucky again, but Schultz didn’t even start developing as an offensive weapon until his third season. If he left the team it would create a void that would have to be filled ASAP.
The value Schultz brings increases theoretically if the Cowboys don’t re-sign Michael Gallup and/or release Amari Cooper. If they lose their top two wide receivers and let Schultz walk then the only real legitimate weapon that would have any sort of consistency with Dak Prescott would be CeeDee Lamb (obviously Cedrick Wilson and/or Noah Brown could also return as well).
A team should never do something like place the franchise tag on someone purely out of fear of the unknown, but the Cowboys are in a bit of a pickle with all of the balls that they are trying to juggle this offseason. If they tagged Schultz they would have to create some salary cap space with some restructures which wouldn’t be difficult, but keeping him around would help ease some troubled waters.