We are less than two weeks away from the July 15th deadline where the Dallas Cowboys will have come to a decision about what to do with tight end Dalton Schultz. After two quiet years in the league, Schultz has put together two very good seasons where he has combined for 141 receptions, 1,423 yards, and 12 touchdowns. Just like that, he has emerged as one of the team’s most valuable offensive weapons. And just like that, his rookie contract is over.
The Schultz situation has created a bit of a conundrum for the Cowboys’ front office. So much in fact that they have placed the franchise tag on him to stop him from hitting the open market, but also to buy themselves some time to figure things out. It has now been 17 weeks since he signed the franchise tag and here we are with no long-term deal yet to be reached. The team has just two more weeks to come to an agreement before contract talks cease, resulting in Schultz playing the 2022 season under the tag. The team won’t be able to negotiate a new deal with him until the next offseason.
This means these next couple of weeks are critical in terms of what the future holds for Schultz and the Cowboys. If this is a marriage that will stay together, then there are advantages for both sides to get a deal done before the deadline. For Schultz, it provides him with long-term financial security and allows him to avoid risking future earnings should he be hit with an injury that affects his overall value. For the Cowboys, they would get short-term cap relief as his tag price for 2022 would go away and his first-year-of-contract cost would drop considerably. They would also get him for an overall cheaper price should he continue to play at this level and command an even larger price tag in 2023.
Word on the street is that both sides are not close to reaching an agreement with all signs pointing toward him playing under the tag. However, negotiations can heat up quickly and a lot of progress can be made as the deadline nears. What should the Cowboys do? Today, we’re going to look at each side of the coin and try to understand the pros and cons of reaching a long-term deal with Schultz.
The case for re-signing him
While his career as a whole has been a tale of two stories, it’s pretty evident which path is a more realistic version of what the team has in Schultz. His opportunities were limited early as Jason Witten’s un-retirement made him essentially non-existent. Schultz had just one measly catch in 2019 before bursting on the scene the following season. And who knows, had it not been for a fluke knee injury to Blake Jarwin, we might have not even seen what Schultz could do in 2020.
Regardless of the slow start, it’s clear what they have in him now. He followed his breakout 2020 season with an even more successful year last season. To gain some perspective, he had the same amount of targets (104) and touchdown receptions (eight) as four-time Pro Bowler Amari Cooper last year. That particular statistic may serve as why the Cowboys are no longer interested in shelling out $20 million per season for Cooper, yet at the same time, it also speaks to how valuable Schultz has become.
Schultz has become Dak Prescott’s BFF, and we’ve seen how valuable those connections can be. For example, future Hall-of-Fame tight end Jason Witten was in the league for 17 seasons and was targeted at least 100 times in nine of them. Only once in his career (2009) did Witten have that many targets and finish with a catch rate of at least 75%. Schultz achieved that mark last season.
Schultz has become a sure-handed target for Dak who helps keep the chains moving. He’s a good in-line blocker and he’s a good red-zone target. If there was any doubt about him being a one-hit-wonder, it has since been removed. A more likely situation is that he’s just getting started. Considering the importance of his role in this offense, Shultz is proving that he’s worth the price tag he’d command and the Cowboys would be wise to not mess with this.
The case for letting him play under the tag
If the Cowboys opt to stand pat at the deadline and let this thing run its course it’s going to be for one reason and one reason only. Money. The team is aware of Schultz’s production, but is it because of his unique skill set, or is it a by-product of this Cowboys offense? If they believe it’s the latter, then the front office might want to look to supplement his contribution with cheaper alternative options. Renting out Schultz’s services for one more year would allow the team to see what they have with some of their other options.
One of those options is third-year tight in Sean McKeon. Similar to Schultz, he was a blocking specialist in college with very limited action as a pass-catcher. And similar to Schultz, he has been very quiet his first two years in the league. McKeon was looking good in training camp last year and might’ve been a bigger factor last season had he not been injured. Who’s to say he might not come on strong in year three as Dalton did?
A second option is rookie Jake Ferguson. Unlike Schultz and McKeon, Ferguson was a consistent pass-catcher in college, averaging over 400 yards receiving over four seasons at Wisconsin. While expectations will be tempered for his first season in the league, the team should be able to get a sense of his potential while Schultz is still doing the heavy lifting. If Ferguson has a good rookie campaign, that could signal the team to let Schultz walk in favor of a much cheaper option that offers longer player control.
If neither of these first two options pan out, the Cowboys still have other outs. They could tag Schultz a second time and see what another crack at a draft produces. And even if rolling with Schultz remains their best option, they can always offer him a long-term deal this time next year, albeit the price of poker will have gone up.
This path certainly contains more risk, but who are we kidding? Jerry Jones hasn’t gotten where he’s at by avoiding risks. And Stephen Jones loves to explore all facets in order to save a buck or two. If the front office and Team Schultz genuinely are far apart in their negotiations, then it appears both sides are willing to let things ride.
What do you think the Cowboys should do with Dalton Schultz?
This poll is closed
Sign him long-term before the deadline
Stand pat for now, re-visit this another time (or let him walk after the 2022 season)