(At long last, the NFL season is in sight. After a long offseason, the Cowboys are set to depart for training camp on July 24. During this final month before they begin practice in Oxnard, Calif., the staff of DallasCowboys.com is going to preview the 20 biggest questions facing the Cowboys heading into 2018.)
FRISCO, Texas – The Jason Witten era might be over, but as Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said at Witten's retirement press conference in May, the franchise will try to uphold the longtime tight end's standard of excellence moving forward.
The immediate question is who replaces Witten's production. The Cowboys have five tight ends on the current roster – Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, Rico Gathers, fourth-round draft pick Dalton Schultz and undrafted rookie David Wells – but only Swaim has a regular-season catch.
On to the next item in our preseason preview:
16) How will the tight end position sort out?
Nick Eatman: Interesting question because depending on the wording, you could get four different answers. Who will open training camp as the starter? I'd say Swaim. Who will open the regular season as the starter? I'd say Jarwin. Who would the Cowboys prefer wins the job outright? I'd say Schultz. And would the fans want to win this job? I'd say Gathers. That's why it's tricky and one that won't be answered completely while we're at camp. Overall, I think Jarwin is the most complete of the tight ends and I think he'll start most of the games this year. That doesn't mean Swaim won't have a few more catches. And yes, I think Rico sticks around again somehow.
Rob Phillips: Swaim's experience and versatility give him the edge as the Week One starter. Most people thought Swaim was only a blocker coming out of Texas three years ago, but he's an underrated pass catcher. I think at this point he's the most complete tight end in the group, but the other candidates have traits that can help them get on the field. Jarwin showed this spring that he can separate and make contested catches. We saw that from Gathers last preseason. In time, I think Schultz has starting potential because he learned how to be a complete tight end at Stanford. Big picture: I think Swaim, Jarwin and Schultz make the team. Can Gathers? He has a chance, for sure, if he continues to show development. But it might be tough to keep four if the team goes heavy at receiver or running back. They're already likely to keep a third quarterback.
Bryan Broaddus: This is a position that I've gone back and forth on. I initially thought that rookie Dalton Schultz was going to be the starter due to his ability as a complete player. In observing these OTAs and minicamps, it appears that Swaim is going to get the first crack at the starting job. The coaching staff has also given Jarwin a considerable amount of snaps with Schultz and Gathers getting work when they could. From my early impressions, Jarwin has outplayed Swaim from an athletic standpoint so that's something to keep in mind as they get ready for training camp. I have a feeling that only three tight ends will make the roster, which leaves guys like Gathers and Wells out of jobs. One of them should end up on the practice squad for further development if they clear waivers.
Mickey Spagnola: Much of this will depend on how the Cowboys decide to use the tight end. They have some versatile players there now, but not sure they absolutely have to be what Witten was. So, having said that, initially, because of his experience, however limited that might be, Swaim will start off as the base offense tight end. But don't go to sleep on Jarwin. He's extremely athletic, and Dak Prescott loves the way he can go up and get the ball. And in due time, Schultz might become the most complete of the bunch.