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Cowboys Backup TE Battle Unusually Interesting in 2022

The Cowboys haven't had much drama at the position for about the last two decades. Not only is Dallas currently embroiled in contract negotiations with starter , but the backup spots are also still wide open and heading towards some interesting battles in .

We went a long time not really worrying too much about who the TE2 was around here. had a stranglehold on the position for about 15 years and made his backup a relatively meaningless roster spot. Even a talented guy like was wasted here with a lack of opportunities and Witten's ironman toughness and rarely missed games.

Things changed in 2018 when Jason tried to become a broadcaster and left the position to , , and then-rookie Dalton Schultz. Even when Witten came back in 2019, the backup spot was of greater intrigue with #82 looking slow on the field and likely not returning the following season.

This year we've got all the drama. At the top of the TE , Schultz got the and is reportedly frustrated with his contract talks. At this point, with the deadline to reach a long-term deal just 11 days away, this story could now drag on into the next .

Last year's backup, Blake Jarwin, is still a as he deals with a career-threatening hip . Dallas released him in March for some cap relief, but mainly because there were significant doubts that Jarwin would be able to play at all in 2022.

Last year TE2 became a non-factor once Jarwin went out in the middle of the season. His exit coincided with 's return to the from an ankle injury, giving Dallas its three-headed monster again at WR and limiting opportunities for any TE other than Schultz.

This year should be different. 's in Cleveland, 's in Miami, and Gallup may miss the early part of the year as finishes recovery from a torn ACL. The opportunity for TE2 to play a larger offensive role, especially in September, is much greater.

Cowboys Backup TE Battle Unusually Interesting in 2022
Cowboys TEs , , &

The potential for Dalton to play on just a one-year deal puts even more attention on Sean McKeon, Jeremy Sprinkle, and rookie Jake Ferguson as the backups and potential replacements in 2023. Will the Cowboys make an effort to involve them more in the offense to see what their potential for next season is?

Sprinkle is probably the odd man out here. The sixth-year veteran is mostly just a blocker and player, getting only three total passing targets in 2021 despite playing in all 17 games. If he makes the roster at all this year it should be in a similar role.

McKeon didn't see much more work last year, only six targets, but made one of them count with his first NFL touchdown in the game against Las Vegas. The athletic prospect, now entering his third season, is somewhat reminiscent of Blake Jarwin in terms of his potential.

Dallas used a 4th-Round pick last April to draft Ferguson. With Schultz having been a 4th-rounder himself in 2018, some are drawing a line to Ferguson being the most likely to step up and take over the position the way same way Dalton did.

As once said, football is a meritocracy. Much like when Jarwin was outplaying Schultz before his 2020 injury, Dallas isn't going to just hand things over to Ferguson based on draft status. If McKeon is the best option then he could easily be the guy to back up Dalton now and perhaps claim a larger role next year.

All of this puts a spotlight on the tight-end position going into training camp. While Dalton Schultz rightfully gets the most attention as the starter, the battle to be his backup and perhaps more in the future creates intrigue we have rarely seen further down the depth chart. If Schultz does end up playing 2022 on the franchise tag, this year's backup may very well become next year's starter.

Whether it's Sean McKeon or Jake Ferguson (apologies to Jeremy Sprinkle), they may very well be auditioning for more than one job this summer.

Jess Haynie
Jess Haynie
Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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Pete Panagiotopoulos

If the Cowboys were smart they would sign a veteran TE like Eric Ebron. He has proved to be a good NFL TE with some upside. Let’s not forget Ebron had 13 TD’S one year and the guys we are talking have 4 CAREER NFL td’s. Ebron is still just 29 years old and has something left in the tank. Don’t go off his stat’s in Pittsburgh with noodle arm Ben. Last year he hardly played but in 2020 he was still a pretty good receiving TE with 56 receptions/ 558 yards/ 5 td’s in only 9 starts. Ferguson and McKeon were average in college and are being hyped a bit too much in Cowboys nation.


Ebron may be only 29, but he’s got a significant injury history. Even worse, they’re all leg injuries. Four knee injuries, three hamstring injuries and three ankle injuries. All led to missed games, with at least one trip to IR. Considering he’s still available this far into the off season when FA signings stopped counting against the comp pick formula a month ago, there’s still a lot of concern about him across the league.


There are also two more wild cards in the deck at TE: Ian Bunting and Peyton Hendershot.

At 6’7″, 255lbs, Ian Bunting could very well take the Sprinkle role as blocker and on ST this year after spending last year on the PS. People have been enamored with T.J. Vasher’s potential (6’4″, 210lbs) in the red zone this off season. Have Bunting chip block and then go across the back of the end zone and let him go up for a jump ball (35″ vert).

Hendershot is actually very close to Sprinkle in size (6’4″, 254lbs) and has played as heavy as 265lbs. His evaluations as a blocker are all over the place with some saying he’s willing and especially good in the running game and others saying he lacks an anchor in the passing game. At 1″ shorter and 255lbs with the potential to go back up to 265lbs, I’m betting that anchor won’t be any worse than Schultz or McKeon.


It suck’s watching Schultz get tossed around in the run game. It’s just, if it’s not him in the passing game then who is it? He is durable and dependable but his run blocking is lacking. That is pretty much like every TE in the league not named Kittle.

William Bristol

We had a good team last year but couldn`’t run the ball in short yardage situations and other teams knew it. Tight end must be able to block. If Schultz wants elite money we need to be able to get 2 yards on strong side runs. Schults was supposedly a run blocking tight end out of college. If he can get us two yards running the ball on third down pay him, if not then next man up.

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