Our 2020 preview series continues with the tight ends. After a brief fake-out by the Cowboys legendary TE, it appears the Jason Witten is now truly over in Dallas. What will this important offensive position look like in 2020, and can Dallas rely on any of these player as much as they have on Witten in the past?
Blake Jarwin is finally getting his chance to shine as the undisputed top TE on the depth chart. Stuck behind Geoff Swaim in 2018 and Witten last year, Jarwin has been relegated to just a little over a third of the Cowboys' offensive snaps each season and only 36-41 targets per year.
But now the big, athletic TE will get to become a primary player in an offense that is poised to put up big numbers. If he doesn't wilt from this new spotlight, Jarwin has a solid chance at making the Pro Bowl for the NFC with his projected production.
Behind him are Blake Bell and Dalton Schultz. Bell was just signed in free agent after winning a Super Bowl with the Chiefs. He was Travis Kelce's backup last year and played on 38% of Kansas City's offensive snaps. To put that in perspective, FB Jamize Olawale only played on 10.5% of Dallas' snaps last year.
Schultz isn't as well established. He's entering his third season still trying to find a real role with the Cowboys. Witten's exit seemed like it would allow both Dalton and Blake Jarwin to ascend the TE depth chart, but the addition of Bell has again muddied things for Schultz.
Dallas is also bringing three relatively unknown prospects to camp in Cole Hikutini, Sean McKeon, and Charlie Taumoepeau. While McKeon and Taumoepeau are both undrafted rookies, Hikutini spent 2019 on the Cowboys' practice squad and has been with the Vikings ans 49ers since going undrafted in 2017.
We'll dig into that competition more in our next section.
Tight End Pre-Camp Rankings
- Blake Jarwin
- Blake Bell
- Dalton Schultz
- Cole Hikutini vs Sean McKeon vs Charlie Taumoepeau
You only need to follow the money to see where some of these players rank in 2020. Dallas re-signed Jarwin to a new contract that averages $5.5 million per year. That's certainly not league-leading money but it does put him in the Top 20 for NFL tight ends; a clear sign of who's starting.
Dallas signed Blake Bell to a one year, $1.7 million deal which roughly double the veteran minimum for a player with his experience. The Cowboys appear to have added Bell to play a particular role with his blocking skills and championship experience.
Schultz can still compete for the backup job. He's got two years left on his rookie deal and the Cowboys would be happy to get something out of their 2018 4th-round pick. The split between Bell and Schultz may wind up being fairly even in 2020, depending on how often Kellen Moore wants to utilize Bell's blocking skills.
Things could go a very different way for Schultz, though. We've seen 4th-round picks not even make the roster as rookies, so Dalton shouldn't expect much job security from that in Year 3. That's especially true with a new coaching staff in town.
The potential is there for Hikutini, McKeon, or Taumoepeau to push their way past Schultz on the depth chart. And even if they don't, perhaps one will do enough to make the roster anyway.
With FB Jamize Olawale opting out of the 2020 season under the COVID-19 policy, the chances that Dallas might keep a fourth TE jumped up. If any of these prospects can play out of the backfield as a lead blocker, that will dramatically increase their value as Dallas looks to replace Olawale's offensive role.
Hikutini will have a big edge on the other two given his previous NFL experience. He's not only been in camps and on practice squads but even played in regular season games, including a catch against the Cowboys in 2017.
That is experience is especially vital this year with all of the missed practice time last spring due to COVID-19. It could give Cole enough of a head start that he separates himself from the rookies early and rides it to a roster spot.
In the end it will all come down to how these players perform over the next few weeks. Will Dalton Schultz find himself pushing Blake Bell for the TE2 position or fighting off the prospects from below? And which of those lesser-known players will stand out enough to make a case?