Earlier today I looked at the precarious job security of running back Lance Dunbar. Now we’re going check out fourth-year tight end Gavin Escobar, who finds himself in a very similar situation.
While Dunbar joined the Cowboys as an undrafted rookie, Escobar was a second-round pick in 2013. With that come a much higher expectation and a relative potential for disappointment. Though it may not be through much fault of his own, Escobar has yet satisfy that high draft pick.
Escobar, like Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett before him, has been a victim of being Jason Witten’s backup. Though you couldn’t ask for a better guy to learn from, Witten doesn’t allow his backup much chance to play. One of the NFL’s greatest iron men, Witten hasn’t missed a game since 2003.
If his opportunities weren’t limited enough by Witten, Escobar faces personal challenges in 2016. He is still recovering from an Achilles tear that could put him on the PUP list. That would keep him inactive until at least Week 7.
Knowing Escobar’s health status, Dallas re-signed James Hanna in March. By itself this wasn’t surprising given Hanna’s value as a blocker and in special teams units. However, the terms of the contract are what put some writing on the wall about Escobar’s future.
Hanna’s deal came in at $8.25 million for three years. That’s nearly $3 million per year for a backup tight end, and that’s simply not the kind of money you pay a third-string player. It tells me that Dallas does not anticipate keeping Escobar beyond this year.
If Hanna is making second-string money then we can logically assume he’ll get second-string touches. We’ve already covered how little of that there is for whoever plays behind Witten. That means little-to-no offensive role for Escobar or whoever’s playing third string, putting the onus on special teams for that guy to earn a roster spot.
This is where Escobar’s chances of even making the team get tricky. Dallas has several young tight ends in Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers, and Austin Traylor. If they anticipate not re-signing Escobar in the next offseason, how much do you really him taking up a spot now? Wouldn’t you rather those practice reps go to one of your developing players?
Escobar’s saving grace may come from Witten. At 34-years-old and entering his 14th season, Witten’s potential for retirement can’t be entirely dismissed. If Jason does decide to hang it up after this year then Escobar may get a chance to compete for that job. We could see him get one of those single-season “prove it” deals like we saw with Morris Claiborne this year.
I don’t anticipate Witten retiring, therefore Escobar will have to hope that he can rejoin the team this year and get some chances to shine. If not, he will continue the team’s ugly track record for second-round tight ends.