The tight end position for the Dallas Cowboys has been an ongoing storyline since future Hall of Famer, Jason Witten, first retired after the 2017 season, and for good reason. Witten was as dependable as they come, and was a main fixture in the Cowboys offense for 15 straight seasons. Cowboy fans were absolutely spoiled by the Witten years. After Witten hung it up the first go around, there were many questions as to what the future holds at the tight end position. One of the first moves Dallas made post Witten was to draft a tight end, which they did by drafting someone Cowboys fans are very familiar with these days, Dalton Schultz.
Schultz was drafted in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL draft, and was supposed to provide some insurance behind Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin, who were essentially tag-teaming the Jason Witten role that was vacated by him prior to the 2018 season. Due to Witten’s greatness as a great receiver and blocker, the Cowboys took a committee approach to replacing him. Swaim was the blocking tight end, and Jarwin was the receiving tight end. When a team divvies up duties that were specified by one player to then split that role amongst two players, you cannot underestimate the greatest of Jason Witten. A combination like his is hard to find and most of them end up where Witten will be soon enough, the Hall of Fame.
The 2018 season came and went with a significant decrease in overall production from the tight end position. A combined season by Swaim and Jarwin produced a stat line of 53 receptions for 549 yards, which isn’t awful, but when Witten on average caught nearly 80 balls a season for over 800 yards, the drop was fairly drastic. It was drastic enough for Witten to come out of retirement for the 2019 season where he caught 63 passes for 529 yards.
Following the 2019 season, Witten moved on to the Raiders and Dallas doled out $24.25 million over three years to newly anointed starting tight end, Blake Jarwin.
Jarwin’s ascent from undrafted free agent, to the top of the depth chart was a fairly quick one as Dallas saw something right out of the gate because in his rookie year of 2017, in fear of arch rival Philly sniffing around, Dallas promoted him to the main roster and by doing so, meant carrying four tight end’s on the 53-man roster. In years 2018 and 2019, Jarwin appeared in every game and started in 11 of them. He put up respectable numbers during those two seasons which is why Dallas gave him the three-year deal in hopes that they paid him ahead of schedule and got even more bang for their buck. Unfortunately for him, injuries have derailed his career since the big contract and he has only started in six games. Due to the injuries for Jarwin, an unexpected star was born during this stretch, Dalton Schultz.
During his first two full seasons in the NFL in 2018 and 2019, Schultz didn’t light the world on fire. However, in a stroke of luck for him and an unfortunate turn of events for Jarwin, 2020 became the breakout season for Schultz. By season’s end, he tallied 63 receptions for 615 yards and four touchdowns. If anyone thought Schultz prior to Jarwin’s injury in 2020 would breakout like he did, I would have to recommend a lie detector test to be administered because no one saw it coming. After a pleasant surprise in 2020 by Schultz, in 2021, the starting role was his and Jarwin became the backup. Quite a turn of events and the tight end room looked much better for the first time since the Witten era. Unfortunately, Jarwin was hit once again by the injury bug and the duo of Schultz and Jarwin as a one-two punch only lasted for just half of the season. After this past season had concluded, Jarwin was released and Dallas was in search of players to once again provide depth in the tight end room.
The 2022 offseason was a busy one for the tight end position not only because Jarwin was gone, but the drama that ensued regarding Dalton Schultz’s contract situation. Eventually he signed the franchise tag and is playing on a one-year deal worth $10.9 million. With the uncertainty of Schultz’s long-term future with the Cowboys, the team once again went to the NFL draft well and picked themselves another fourth-rounder, Jake Ferguson from Wisconsin.
Ferguson had a nice career with the Badgers where he caught a total of 145 balls for 1,618 yards and 13 touchdowns. He fits the prototype that Dallas is looking for at tight end, an average athlete who has good fundamentals in not only the passing game but also in the blocking department. The Cowboys have a type of player they seek at tight end and I wouldn’t expect them to change their approach at the position because the returns have been solid. They aren’t getting unicorns like Kyle Pitts, but you don’t need those type of traits at the tight end position to be effective and produce quality play at the pro level.
Speaking of prototypes, Dallas found another one of those type players in the undrafted market this offseason when they added Peyton Hendershot from Indiana. By the time his college days were done, he had broken school records in receptions and yardage totals as he put up a total of 136 catches for 1,479 yards.
What is telling about bringing in Ferguson via the draft, and Hendershot via the undrafted market, is the fact that both players made the team this year which especially for Hendershot, comes as a surprise. Based on the Cowboys recent past with fourth-round picks and undrafted free agents, they seemed to have a formula all figured out.
And don’t forget about another recent undrafted free agent from 2020, Sean McKeon, whom many pundits thought was a lock to make the team this year. Thankfully, he made it back to the practice squad which gives Dallas four options for this year and depending on Schultz’s contract situation, those three players could make up the tight end room in 2023. The potential prospect of losing Schultz isn’t ideal, but for what he will be commanding on the open market next offseason, it’s fair to say that Dallas may just let him walk and not think twice because of the play of the other three tight ends currently on the Cowboys.
One thing is for sure, it is going to be a very interesting thing to watch unfold between now and next offseason. So buckle on up and enjoy the ride, it’s going to be an interesting one.