The shocking return of Jason Witten is a feelgood story for the 2019 Dallas Cowboys, but will it really mean on the field? How will Witten’s big presence impact the tight end position during the upcoming training camp and beyond?
Before we ever knew Jason would come back from retirement, Blake Jarwin was stirring up excitement as the new starting TE this year. His huge three-touchdown game in Week 17 last year, while an extreme example, showed the kind of receiving threat he might be going forward.
Still, before Witten announce his return to football, some wanted the Cowboys to invest more in the position. Whether it came in the form of a veteran free agent like Jared Cook or Tyler Eifert, or a high draft pick, there was the thought that Dallas needed to guard themselves against Jarwin being a flash in the pan.
But once we heard that Jason was back, we knew that there wouldn’t be any big moves at TE this offseason. The Cowboys are hoping that some combination of Witten’s actual return to the field, or his mentoring of their young prospects, will elevate the position from last year.
Here is our projected TE depth chart for the 2019 training camp:
- Jason Witten
- Blake Jarwin
- Dalton Schultz
- Rico Gathers
- Codey McElroy
While Jarwin may wind up having the most snaps and targets of any TE this season, it’s a safe bet that Witten will get some deference as a Cowboys legend. That’s why we’re making him the starter right now, even with a year away.
The balancing between Blake and Jason as the top two will be something we watch all season. Not only does it impact the 2019 offense, but we want to know if Dallas has a TE of the future in house or will need to make a big move next year to solidify the position.
2018 4th-round pick Dalton Schultz may have something to say about the presumed top two. If he’s made some strides in his sophomore season, Schultz could force a full-blown committee approach at tight end.
From a financial standpoint, Dallas would love for Schultz to take over the position in 2020. He is signed through 2021 on a cheap rookie contract, while Jarwin will be a restricted free agent next year.
Predicting who emerges between Jarwin and Schultz is hard to say, but what isn’t hard to imagine is that these may be Rico Gathers’ last few weeks as a Cowboy.
Now entering his fourth season, the basketball-to-football transformation project has not been able to break through. He has expressed frustration with the TE depth chart during the offseason, and a one-game suspension to start 2019 isn’t going to help matters.
Dallas may just be keeping three tight ends this year. They have WR Noah Brown and FB Jamize Olawale who are built to do play like smallish TEs. If they only keep three, it won’t matter how much Rico has progressed.
If the Cowboys go with four tight ends that last guy may not be Gathers. They signed prospect Codey McElroy this offseason, who spent last year as an undrafted rookie with the Rams. McElroy may be their new developmental project.
Dallas’ 2019 camp will offer plenty of new insights into the TE position. How do they split the workload between Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz? Can Rico Gathers do anything to fight his way into the conversation, or will he lose his spot to Codey McElroy?
We look forward to getting some more answers in the coming weeks.
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