The Dallas Cowboys don’t know what they want to do at tight end. When we really think about it, that’s been the case ever since the team has attempted to transition from eventual Hall of Famer and Cowboys legend Jason Witten. The initial return of Witten slowed down the progress of Dalton Schultz as the veteran received the bulk of the reps while younger guys rode the pine. And even after Witten was gone once and for all, the team hasn’t been all that sure about who they believe will be his successor as they have, at different times, invested in both Schultz and Blake Jarwin, only to still find themselves shrugging their shoulders about where the long-term answer lies.
This season, the Cowboys are all over the place. They kicked things off by releasing Jarwin just two years into his four-year, $22 million deal. Once believed to be a dynamic receiving weapon for this offense, Jarwin has had some terrible luck with injuries. He essentially missed the entire 2020 season after suffering a torn ACL in the season opener. After rehabbing his knee, he returned this past season only to go down again with a hip injury midway through the season, an injury that could threaten his playing career. It’s an unfortunate situation for Jarwin, but it’s also unfortunate for the Cowboys to have paid out nearly $10 million over the last two seasons for a guy who has only caught 12 passes during that span.
With the Jarwin experiment over, the Cowboys have another dilemma as they don’t seem to know what they want to do with Dalton Schultz. A fourth-round pick in 2018, Schultz had a quiet first couple of years as he was stuck down on the depth chart and mainly was used for blocking. All that changed in 2020 when Witten re-retired and Jarwin suffered his knee injury right out of the gate. These circumstances thrust Schultz into the starting tight end spot. Schultz didn’t disappoint, playing in all 16 games and tallying 63 catches for 615 yards and four touchdowns. The Cowboys could’ve been proactive and offered him an extension last season after seeing considerable growth, but that didn’t happen. Schultz continued his strong play with an even better season racking up 78 catches for 808 yards and eight touchdowns. His asking price continues to rise.
Last offseason, Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry were the top free agent tight end signings, as they each commanded an average annual salary of $12.5 million. Oddly enough, they were both signed by New England. This year, David Njoku has drawn first blood with a four-year, $56.75 million extension that will pay him an annual salary of $14.2 million. Just like that, Njoku is the fourth-highest paid tight end in the league, which makes us stop and think, what is Schultz going to cost?
Browns extended TE David Njoku for 4 years up to $56.75M with $28M guaranteed, per @ByNateUlrich. His production vs. Dalton Schultz, whom Cowboys tagged?— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) May 28, 2022
Schultz: 78 catches, 808 yds, 8 TDs, 43 1st downs in 2021
Njoku: 55 catches, 688, 6 TDs, 30 1st downs...in 2020-21 combined
The Cowboys have placed the franchise tag on Schultz for the 2022 season. He’ll cost $10.9 million against the cap, and Dallas has until the July 15th deadline to negotiate a long-term deal. Failure to do so means Schultz is playing on a one-year deal, and based on his current production trajectory, his market price next season should end up being on the north side of $16 million annually. The Cowboys' reluctance to re-up Schultz up to this point likely means they won’t be doing so later either. If Schultz’s days are number, what are the Cowboys to do at tight end? Let’s take a look at the “other guys” at the tight end position and gauge what we might expect from them going forward.
A UDFA in 2020, McKeon has shown promise in limited action thus far. He’s a good blocker who had a nice camp last season. Unfortunately, he suffered an ankle injury that kept him out the first half of the season. His return aligned perfectly with Jarwin’s injury so the Cowboys went from one backup TE to another. He has some of that unflashy-yet-get-it-done appeal that made us come around on Schultz, but can McKeon get to that level? And if so, when? Schultz’s slow development has shortened the length of service the team has gotten during his rookie deal, and the same could end up happening with McKeon.
A low-cost free agent signing a year ago, Sprinkle was a smart addition as it gave the team some additional depth. He played his rookie contract with Washington, playing in all but five games during that four-year span. Known for his blocking ability and special teams play, Sprinkle’s contribution goes under the radar; however, the coaching staff is definitely aware of his value. He even jumped McKeon in playing time as he out-snapped the youngster down the stretch last.
The Cowboys brought Sprinkle back on another low-cost deal. He may not ever manifest into a TE1-level player, but he’s a good player to have on the roster.
The team spent a fourth-round draft pick on Ferguson in last month’s draft hoping he can be a key part of the unit in the future. With solid blocking and pass-catching ability, he has plenty to offer, but it might take him a season to get his feet underneath him. As luck would have it, the team will have Schultz sticking around during that time, so there is no immediate need for him to step in and contribute. The only question is, can he develop into an every-down player, or will the Cowboys have to once again look elsewhere?
What should the Cowboys do at tight end?
This poll is closed
Re-sign Schultz, whatever it takes!
McKeon’s the guy now!
Sprinkle can get the job done
Ferguson will be the guy, just give him time
None of these