Only once in the last decade and a half have the Dallas Cowboys had to decide what they were going to do at the tight end position until this offseason. That was back in the 2018 offseason when Jason Witten up and retired just before the second round of the NFL Draft was about to take place that year. It came as a surprise to pretty much everyone. The announcement created the assumption that the Dallas Cowboys would target the position in the draft, leading to the Philadelphia Eagles expending draft capital to move up in the second round to select Dallas Goedert.
Many assumed at the time that the Cowboys would have selected Goedert had he been there, which has been arduously refuted by the front office who ultimately selected Connor Williams to be their starting left guard.
Well, the time has come again for the Dallas Cowboys to decide what they’re doing at the tight end position as it seems Jason Witten is unlikely to return with a new coaching staff less beholden to the future hall of famer.
Currently, the only two tight ends on the roster are Dalton Schultz, a selection from the 2018 draft, and Cole Hikutini who’s bounced around the league since 2017.
Blake Jarwin is a restricted free agent and will likely return unless someone signs him to an offer sheet the Cowboys are unwilling to match. In the event that happens, tight end would become a huge need for the Dallas Cowboys and may already be.
With as much playmaking ability as Blake Jarwin has shown, he still has some work to do as a blocker in the run game. Used correctly and it doesn’t matter, he can still be an effective player for you, but as it stands the Cowboys may want to add a more versatile player to head up their tight end group.
For this exercise, we’re going to assume that Atlanta Falcons’ Austin Hooper and Los Angeles Chargers Hunter Henry will be retained by their current teams and thus be unavailable in free agency. Even if they were available, I find it unlikely that the Cowboys would invest in one of the higher-profile names.
Eric Ebron, Indianapolis Colts
Eric Ebron is a name that may cause some to scoff as he’s generally regarded as someone who has struggled with drops. And that’s a valid concern. Among players with at least 26 targets in 2019, Ebron had the fourth-highest drop rate among 44 qualifying tight ends per Pro Football Focus. That said, in 2018 with twice as many targets, Ebron had a better drop rate than All-Pro tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs Travis Kelce.
On the flip side, he’s been a tremendous red-zone threat the last couple of years for the Indianapolis Colts and is someone who would be a tremendous asset to Dak Prescott and the Cowboys passing attack.
Back in 2018, Ebron led the position with 13 touchdown receptions and was fifth in the NFL in first down receptions among tight ends. That while Andrew Luck was throwing him the ball. In 2019, he wasn’t so fortunate with Jacoby Brissett starting all 16 games.
Ebron was also limited to just 11 games in 2019 and posted his worst stat line since his rookie season in 2014.
He’s got some flexibility to play in-line or in the slot, which combined with Jarwin could make for a dynamic duo in 12 personnel groupings.
Eric Ebron has some warts, but generally players who are hitting the free-agent market do. He is a tight end that would serve as an excellent complement to Blake Jarwin or a starter if you don’t feel Jarwin’s up to being the full-time tight end. Ebron offers a lot of experience and can bring a touchdown threat to their red zone offense, which has been sorely lacking the last couple of years.
Richard Rodgers, Philadelphia Eagles
If the Dallas Cowboys wanted to add a depth piece to their tight end group to supplement Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz, Richard Rogers might be the veteran that makes the most sense.
He’s not necessarily a blocking tight end, but another athletic player with upside that has a connection to Mike McCarthy. Rodgers spent his first four seasons in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers and was a solid backup for them.
In 2015, he got a big opportunity seeing 85 targets catching 58 passes for 510 yards and eight touchdowns. Unfortunately, he never was able to follow up that career year performance, but he’s a veteran player who would add solid depth to the tight end group.
Robert Tonyan, Green Bay Packers
Another player with ties to Mike McCarthy is Robert Tonyan a former undrafted free agent originally signed by the Detroit Lions, subsequently released on cut-down day, only to be added at the end of the 2017 season to the Green Bay Packers practice squad.
Over the course of the 2018 and 2019 seasons, Tonyan played in 27 games for the Packers. Though most of his work came on special teams, he did see 18% of the offensive snaps in 2019. For reference, Dalton Schultz saw just 10% of the offensive snaps for the Dallas Cowboys in 2019.
Though he played fewer games in 2019 than he did in 2018, he still had more receptions, yards, and receptions for first downs last season.
Like Rodgers, Tonyan isn’t a player that’s going to come in and sit at the top of the depth chart but would be a solid third tight end option for the Dallas Cowboys that has made some plays in the passing game.
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The Dallas Cowboys will need to add a player at the tight end position this offseason and I think they’ll look to find a bargain to supplement what they have in Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz. Eric Ebron could be a bargain coming off a season in which he was injured and suffered a fall from grace in his production. He’s started a lot of games in the NFL and could help this team. If they wanted to target a third tight end for the depth chart, Rodgers and Tonyan would be solid options with Mike McCarthy ties as well.