Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones addressing the media from his team’s one-of-a-kind touring bus at the NFL combine has become a yearly tradition, and a rare opportunity to hear about the state of the team without the immediate backdrop of an upcoming training camp or game. Just one of the noteworthy comments from Jones in Indianapolis addressed the difficulty of surrounding franchise QB Dak Prescott with the same talent he had while on a rookie contract, given the percentage of the cap space he now occupies.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said it is difficult to give QB Dak Prescott the type of supporting cast he had early in his NFL career because he is on second contract. Prescott is currently scheduled to count $49.1M against the 2023 cap. pic.twitter.com/DHJPnEamBu— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) March 4, 2023
Of course, this doesn’t at all mean the Cowboys aren’t looking to improve in any area possible this offseason, mostly being linked to prospects on offense that can give Prescott more help at a team-friendly price. Dallas asking Prescott to make up for their decision to move on from both Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson in the same offseason is part of what led to Kellen Moore’s departure at the end of this season, with Mike McCarthy stepping in to call plays and advance the offense.
Though the voice in Prescott’s ear has changed, the premise that he’ll have to do more with less may not be going anywhere, with yet another big-name free agent not expected to remain with the team. Tight end Dalton Schultz played 2022 on the franchise tag, a reliable veteran presence that helped both rookies Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot get acclimated.
Optimism may be high that the duo of Ferguson and Hendershot is ready to fill in for Schultz should he depart in free agency, but this hasn’t stopped mock draft experts from linking first round tight ends to the Cowboys - as our R.J. Ochoa covered here:
On Tuesday there were mock drafts that dropped by notable NFL Draft insiders Dane Brugler and Todd McShay and both of them had the Cowboys selecting Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid with the 26th overall pick. While Kincaid is a talented prospect and a name that is certainly worth consideration, ultimately it is difficult to see any rookie tight end having a high level of impact in their first season in the NFL.
Not to bang the phrase “win now” or anything, but that doesn’t exactly line up with who the Cowboys are right now.
By winning twelve games and making it a round further in the playoffs, the Cowboys were at least somewhat justified in putting the pressure they did on Prescott last season. Still falling short of expectations though, the club is walking an increasingly thinner line when it comes to continuing this approach at some positions while also giving Prescott more to work with.
Mike McCarthy’s history at the tight end position suggests this is a position the Cowboys do not need to put a ton of resources into.
Whether or not the Cowboys are fully invested in making moves in the best interest of winning under Mike McCarthy, or leveraging a way to clean house if they fall short of expectations again is certainly up for debate. If we assume the first is true, the Cowboys focus on building a new offense in his image should be looking much closer at wide receiver and offensive line compared to tight end.
With Schultz as a full-time starter the last three seasons, his 57 catches for 577 yards were both career lows over this span on the franchise tag in 2022. Even still, this production would be good for the third-most catches and fifth-most yards by any tight end that’s played under McCarthy dating back to 2006-18 with the Packers. Jermichael Finley caught 61 passes for 667 yards and just two touchdowns in 2012, and is probably one of the more recognizable names when it comes to Green Bay tight ends during this time.
Richard Rodgers tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions with eight in 2015, one of which was this memorable hail mary from Aaron Rodgers to beat the Lions on the road. Besides these outliers, forgettable names like Bubba Franks, Donald Lee, and Martellus Bennett make the idea of Dallas spending the 26th overall pick on a player like Utah’s Dalton Kincaid hard to fathom.
It’s not that Kincaid wouldn’t give the Cowboys a middle of the field threat that can help give Prescott more answers in the quick passing game, but finding out if they already have this type of player in Ferguson or Hendershot could be worth the risk - especially if it means a chance at drafting TCU’s Quentin Johnson or Ohio State’ Jaxon Smith-Njigba to get more dynamic on the outside.
McCarthy’s West Coast style offense does require bodies at tight end, as the Cowboys lasting commitment to the run game will keep multiple on the field for plenty of snaps moving forward. More receiver-like tight ends like Jimmy Graham struggled to adjust to the inline TE role in McCarthy’s offense in 2018, his final season with the Packers.
With the offseason still fairly young, the Cowboys have work to do to prove they understand how to manage their cap space in a way that keeps them in contention under Prescott. The memory of watching the Eagles jump them in the NFC East and take a loaded roster led by Jalen Hurts to the Super Bowl is still fresh, and only adds to the frustration of the fan’s voice when understandably skeptical of Prescott’s supporting cast.
In order to significantly improve at WR or OL, the Cowboys will need to trust younger players to step up elsewhere. Tight end is a perfect spot to do so, where another late-round pick similar to Jake Ferguson could complement the second-year TE out of Wisconsin if he is elevated to starting status, with Hendershot helping out.