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How Hard Should the Cowboys Really Try to Keep Dalton Schultz?

One of the marquee for the in 2022 is starting Tight End Dalton Schultz. But while Schultz is coming off a career year and has been one of the NFL’s most productive TEs the last two seasons, should he really be a priority for Dallas this ?

This is not an easy article to write as it’s going to sound very critical of a good player. But this isn’t really a criticism of Schultz; more of a reality check of how much he has contributed to the and what his true value to the team is in a critical offseason.

From a purely number-driven analysis Dalton has been great! He was third in catches, sixth in yards, and fifth in touchdowns among all tight ends in 2021. If not for having George Kittle, , and to compete with in the , Schultz’s numbers were -worthy in most years for his position.

One of Dalton’s best statistical compliments is efficiency. He was only sixth in targets, making his high receiving totals even more impressive compered to some peers.

On paper, this highly-productive TE seems like a guy Dallas should be desperate to keep. And in a different offseason without the strangling them, the Cowboys could feel perfectly comfortable about giving Schultz a big, new contract or even the .

But given their cap constraints and the issues across the at WR, LG, DE, LB, and more the Cowboys just can’t afford to throw money around. They have to look for places to save wherever they can get them, and one could argue that TE presents such an opportunity.

This requires you to look past the stats and focus more on “the eye test.” Is Dalton Schultz a special talent at his position, or is he a guy who’s put up big numbers as a beneficiary of the NFL’s number-one offense last season?

Ask yourself, “When has Schultz made a play that made me jump from my seat? When has his individual talent made the difference in a play, versus just being open and enjoying a mismatch thanks to scheme and surrounding talent?”

“Would it really be that hard to replace him?”

While they’re likely losing one of them, either or Michael Gallup should be back in 2022. So will and probably or a comparable free agent to fill the WR3 role. You’ll also still have and at RB, hopefully an improved , and still running the show.

This offense should still be able to produce at a similar level next season. The burden is on the coaches and to determine if Dalton Schultz was a cause or an effect factor of its proficiency the last two years.

This question is especially important given the slew of replacement options available. Not only is the loaded at TE but the list of potential veteran free agents is also massive:

  1. Jared Cook, Chargers
  2. Hayden Hurst, Falcons
  3. Evan Engram, Giants
  4. , Cardinals
  5. Mike Gesicki, Dolphins
  6. Rob Gronkowski, Bucs
  7. , Bucs
  8. , Browns
  9. C.J. Uzomah, Bengals
  10. Maxx Williams, Cardinals
    And many more….

This list presents a wide array of intriguing options. And while some guys like Mike Gesicki will likely command more than Dallas wants to spend, what about former 1st-Round picks like O.J. Howard, Hayden Hurst, or David Njoku who could blossom in another offense?

Remember, Dalton Schultz was only a 4th-Round pick himself. In fact, he was in the same draft class when Hurst was taken by Atlanta. Four years ago, Hayden was unanimously seen a superior prospect.

Of course, where you were drafted is never as important as what you prove in the NFL. But you also have to compare opportunities and environments that allowed some players to succeed more than others.

It’s not like Schultz hit the ground running in the NFL. He was buried as a behind and Jarwin, then again in 2019 for the Farewell Tour. In fact, some wondered if Dalton would even make the roster the following year.

Would Schultz even be Dallas’ top tight end today if hadn’t blown his ACL in Week 1 of 2020?

That’s the scariest part of this whole dilemma for me. Would Dalton Schultz even be a starter in the NFL if not for Jarwin’s ? It’s great he finally got a chance to prove himself, but this guy never forced the coaches to put him on the field with his perceived potential. Only circumstances forced their hand, and thankfully Dalton delivered when needed.

Is that enough to deserve an $11 million franchise tag or a contract paying him among the best tight ends in football? Could the Cowboys pay a veteran half that, or even less, and get similar numbers? Could they roll the dice on a guy like O.J. Howard and perhaps unlock what Tampa Bay failed to?

This is when the best front offices make those tough decisions that ultimately improve the team. This is when a team like New England doesn’t reward a guy for the past and focuses on the future, and takes a hard look at whether or not the “moneyball” approach would yield similar results at a fraction of the cost.

Dalton Schultz is a good tight end. He deserves to start in this league.

But at what price? And at what risk to limiting your resources at other parts of the roster?

The need to be very, very sure that Schultz is reason for their offensive prowess and not a beneficiary of it. Otherwise, his next contract may be another you’re complaining about in a couple years.

What do you think?

Jess Haynie

Written by 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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12 Comments

  1. Stephen- I feel your pain brother. Tough cap decisions will need to be made. I’m not disagreeing with anything you say. But when u let a starter go, that position/production has to be replaced.

    U could make a case for letting the declining Cooper and Lawrence go this year and the way declining Elliott next year. That sheds you of three of ur highest paid players who are past their prime and not producing enough. With that money we can get some younger more productive players in here. The cowboys are transitioning into a quasi rebuilding mode anyway. Better to let a player go a year too early then a year to late. Something the cowboys gave not done well.

  2. Gary B, you are always a gentleman on these discussion forums and I truly appreciate your positive contributions. I 100% agree that this is a quasi rebuild mode opposed to a reload at one or two positions. The problems run much deeper than keeping Schultz or letting him walk, for sure. It absolutely stops at the desk of the GM for tying up so many resources on so few players that have not been dependable game changers. The absurdity of these contracts given before the league caught up to it is mind boggling. In the end, I expect business to continue as usual because an 80 year old zebra ain’t going to change his stripes. And, from the words that come out of his son’s mouth, the Apple has not fallen far from the tree.

    Same players. Same coaches. Same results.

  3. I\\’m having a hard time with so many areas of this team that I don\\’t even know where to start. When all is said and done, they won a weak NFC East – which is not a bragging point – and then did nothing but bow out in their first playoff game. So, at this point, retaining high priced contract and/or injured players that are the same ones that couldn\\’t win even one playoff game seems like a recipe for the exact same season next year. Throw the coaches in, too.

    To me, I\\’m not interested in injured players or players that are declining and cannot stay on the field for a season. I love the left tackle but he is declining and hasn\\’t played a full season in years. Time to move on. I like the left edge/DE but he has missed a number of games due to injuries and suspensions (if I recall). Is he a game changer? I remember a few games that I can say yes in his eight years but that\\’s all. He doesn\\’t put up huge sack numbers but I\\’m told he\\’s a beast in the run game, the very same run game where teams seem to run at will against this defense. Is that scheme or players? Either way, his $22 million doesn\\’t seem to have much effect there. Cooper and his $20 million price tag? I really love him but if they are not going to feature him in the game, better to let him go get a ring with KC or another team. My biggest regret is that the GM gave a 1st round pick for him and then is willing to depart from him after such a short time. He produces when targeted. The injured TE? Let him go. The WR with an ACL? I liked him before the inquiry but don\\’t know what he will be after. Let that gamble be someone else\\’s problem. The left guard? Those holding penalties are definitely a game changer. I cannot trust him to not hold on critical, game deciding drives. Make him a backup or move on. Ezekiel Elliot, where do I even go with that? He blocks well but so does a fullback at a fraction of the cost. Declining three straight years. Only reason he got 1,000 yards was because the league added another game. He blocks great but averages 60 yards or so a game. CUT HIM. And for all the folks that say \\”Cutting him doesn\\’t do anything because his salary is guaranteed,\\” I have a thought on that. Releasing him frees up a roster spot to pair another cheaper veteran running back who can actually average more than 60 yards a game. He is not a game changer. He\\’s taking the spot of players that can produce more. Can\\’t help that the GM caved and paid this player a ridiculous amount of money on a holdout. Randy Gregory? He played better this last year but I don\\’t have enough trust in the man to back up a Brinks Truck to his door. Time will tell but if he doesn\\’t do a very, very team friendly deal for allowing him to still be in this league, let him become someone else\\’s potential problem.

    There are so many holes on this team being occupied by over priced players that can\\’t even win one playoff game. I\\’m not feeling the sentiment of keeping home grown players when they are the ones that can\\’t get to the playoffs and advance deep into it. This is the same thing with Demarcus Ware all over again. Fantastic player. HOF talent. But, did paying him a ton of cash make the team so much better that it would be knocking on the Super Bowl door? No, it would just be paying him a lot of money with the same result the following year. They were an 8-8 team with or without him.

    I\\’m OK with letting all of those players mentioned above go elsewhere. Some I love, some I like and some just need to go because they are hurting this team. I like Schultz. But, does paying him $10-$12 million a year make this team go deep into the playoffs? It didn\\’t this last season and we were \\”loaded\\” with playmakers everywhere according to the Cowboys hype machine. I\\’m OK with him seeking greener pastures elsewhere.

    To all those players mentioned, I wish them well in their endeavors.

  4. And please DO NOT tag Schultz. When has that ever worked out for the cowboys? Both DLaw and Dak fleeced the FO when they went this route. The cowboys have a terrible track record of overvaluing their own players,and giving them ridiculous contracts.

    I like Schultz but his liabilities as a blocker greatly diminish his value in my eyes. The inability of our TEs/WRs to block this year, hurt the both the run and pass game.

  5. I truly believe that Shultz would have still taken the starting position from Jarwin because he’s a better and more solid tighten in all aspects of the game. He’s a great blocker something that Blake Jarwin was not good at. Dalton Shultz was and is still Dak Prescott’s security blanket and that means everything. They’re building around Dak so why take that away when the connection is already familiar instead of stating something new. Pay the man and continue to build around Prescott . This article is a no brainer …… keep the chemistry and keep winning.

  6. A good tight end blocks first, catches and runs second and if he is really good, punishes the D back third. Schultz is very good at finding the open area on a short release, period. I’ve heard that as a blocker he was good in college. He is not in college anymore and is a liability not only while next to a tackle but constantly splitting out exposes Prescott to a fault.
    He plays very well but from the perspective of a 250# flanker. Therein lies his value too a team!

  7. Gary is right. The guy constantly gets blown off the ball on run blocks. He was supposed to be a blocking TE out of Stanford. You wanna pay a one dimensional player top dollar when you can find plenty of those in free agency. The one thing I will keep going back to is watching Kittle blow up our DE’s and LB’s in that playoff game. The man was out there stealing souls. I need a TE like Jake Ferguson who has the ability and want to. To run block. Security is when you have all day to pass because play action sets it all up due to a run game. Draft a TE or two that can run block and grab a cheap receiving TE in free agency. Because we sure as hell don’t need another guy who just has no desire to run block. Look, the niners clearly had less talent at the skill positions then us. But they had some tough gritty bad ass dudes ready to get real physical with the Cowboys because the Cowboys are soft. Y’all tell me that’s not what happened in that game.

  8. Good points Lonewolf. But I doubt they keep Jarwin. Any savings is better then nothing. His injury appears pretty serious, so doubtful he will be of any use next season.

    Agree about the surplus of TEs via the Draft/Free agency. I would take Schultz at 8 million, but not more. He can’t block, which is the other part of being a complete TE. It also could be dependent on how the WR situation shakes out. If Cooper leaves and they are left with only Lamb and the hobbled Gallup, they will need more pass catchers/weapons.

  9. Something to think about…because this FA class is so loaded with quality TE’s and this draft is loaded top to bottom with talented TE’s, could the market prices get depressed accordingly, kind of like the safeties a couple of years ago?

    If that ends up being the case, and he and his agent are willing to come in around $8M per year, I would use some of that savings from trading/releasing Cooper on him. Why?

    1) He’s better than Jarwin, even in the rare event that Jarwin is actually healthy. Jarwin just hasn’t been reliable. Which brings us to…
    2) Dak needs a security blanket that he trusts. Dak has shown time and time again that he has trust issues with his receivers. For whatever reason, he never really developed that trust level with Cooper. So, I wouldn’t be so quick to show someone he has trust with to the door.
    3) Because Jarwin is now very likely to miss the beginning of the season, that not only leaves the cupboard at TE nearly empty, but almost assures that whoever they bring in will have to get up to speed and develop a rapport with Dak. I don’t have much faith in that happening with all the other moving pieces in camp.

    Unfortunately, they’d now have to do an injury settlement to rid themselves of Jarwin’s contract and there’s still $3M in guaranteed money still left on it. That means only $1.5M in savings by cutting him. Add in an injury settlement, and there’s no real benefit. Better to keep him for one more year and hope that he returns healthy and can add late season depth.

    My best case scenario? Re-sign Schultz to a long contract averaging <$10M and convert most of the first year salary to a bonus to spread it out and give some relief this year. Use a mid to late rounder to draft someone like Daniel Bellinger, Jake Ferguson, Jelani Woods, or Derrick Deese to fill in for Jarwin early and possibly replace him after this season.

    Maybe Sean McKeon breaks out. But, I’m not holding my breath.

    They could also use a FB that can play some TE as well. Olonilua is almost as big as McKeon. Ralston is 3″ shorter and a few pounds lighter, but he has played some TE in college. It’s not a great fallback plan, but it’s better than nothing.

    I, and Dak, would still prefer to have a safety blanket that he has an established rapport with for those times when DB’s are sitting on those endless stop routes out on the edges.

  10. This is a surprisingly reasonable discussion given the Cowboys hype usually starts with saying each player is great. Where Cooper and Elliott are not great and can be replaced, tight end is essential to the Boys offense and is a difficult player to find.
    Cooper and Gallop and Jarwin are in decline due to injuries and should be let go.
    Schultz is young, not injured, and has proven he can succeed in the offense.
    Keep the rising Schultz and let the declining 3 go . Use the declining 3 savings to keep the rising player.
    That just seems so logical that I know Jerry will do the opposite.

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