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Dalton Schultz, the franchise tag, and the 4 candidates the Cowboys are looking at to replace him

The clock has started and now the Cowboys must take action.

Virginia Tech v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

The 2022 season marks the 30th year that the franchise tag has been a part of the NFL. It feels like only yesterday when owners concocted a creative way to add another year of player control without having to pay full price. Those sneaky sneakertons!

Since its implementation, the Dallas Cowboys have slapped the tag on seven different players, with Dalton Schultz being the latest victim. Usually, the Cowboys employ the tag for one of two reasons. Either (A) they aren’t fully convinced they want to commit long-term to a player or (B) they are just using it as a placeholder to keep a player from hitting the open market. A couple years ago, we provided a little recap of the previous six players to get tagged, which included:

  • 2002 Flozell Adams - played on it, signed a five-year, $25.5 million extension the following year
  • 2008 Ken Hamlin - placeholder, signed a six-year, $37.5 million extension
  • 2012 and 2013 Anthony Spencer - tagged twice, played on it twice, had microfracture surgery, and finished his NFL career on a one-year, $2 million deal the following season
  • 2015 Dez Bryant - placeholder, signed a five-year, $70 million extension
  • 2018 and 2019 DeMarcus Lawrence - played on the first one, second one a placeholder and signed a five-year, $105 million extension
  • 2020 and 2021 Dak Prescott - played on the first one, second one a formality and signed a four-year, $160 million extension

The two players who were extended that same season, Hamlin and Bryant, ended up flaming out rather quickly. All those who played under the tag either eventually received long-term deals and still performed at a high level, or in the case of Spencer, suffered an injury that derailed his career. In those instances, the extra time afforded the team to make a safer investment even if it came with a little bit of added cost upfront.

So, which category will Schultz fall into?

Surprisingly, the Schultz situation could be entirely different. That is, his tag may be neither a placeholder or a “we need to see more from him” scenario. The decision to tag Schultz may strictly be used as an opportunity to rent his services for one more season while they figure things out for the future. A future that Schultz isn’t a part of.

The team has their eye on some of this year’s tight end prospects, and if they could script it, they’d love to come out of the 2022 NFL Draft with a brand new one. That said, they’re not going to have their hand forced. The team appears to want to have the luxury of passing up on a tight end should a more talented player at another position be available, and keeping Schutlz around allows them to do just that. It’s not a coincidence that the four tight ends the Cowboys are bringing in for visits all project to come off the board in that same range, round two or three. They have one year to figure this out, and based on their pre-draft visitors their options are:

Cade Otton, Washington - the Schultz clone

Everything about Otton just screams Dalton Schultz. He’s a disciplined blocker who isn’t anything close to a dynamic receiving talent, yet somehow gets the job done. He’s a machine at route-running, nothing special, just efficient. If the Cowboys select Otton, they are essentially making a seamless transition from one reliable tight end to another.

Jelani Woods, Virginia - the pass catching specialist

The team could go a completely opposite direction by taking the super athletic Jelani Woods. He’s not as fundamentally sound of a route runner as Otton, but he’s a dynamic playmaker when he gets in space. He’s not a terrible blocker, so he could pair with Sean McKeon and collectively provide enough inline support.

Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State - a little bit of everything

Similar to the other two, Ruckert can be effective as both a blocker and a pass catcher. The target opportunities at Ohio State weren’t plentiful due to having two of the top collegiate wideouts on the team, but he’s showcased his athleticism in what little opportunities he’s had. While his blocking is still a work in progress, he’s familiar with the role as he was asked to do a lot of it on the Buckeyes offense.

Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M - the wildcard

A productive tight end in college, Wydermyer’s stock took a hit after some poor athletic testing. He’s not going to be quick out of his breaks, but he can still get downfield and string together yards after the catch. His blocking needs work, but it’s not dreadful. There’s some upside here, but like Woods, a viable inline blocker would also need to be on the roster.

Poll

Do you like any of these tight end options?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    Cade Otton, Washington
    (483 votes)
  • 49%
    Jelani Woods, Virginia
    (1171 votes)
  • 19%
    Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State
    (470 votes)
  • 10%
    Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M
    (237 votes)
2361 votes total Vote Now