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Back & Forth: What's The Long-Term Plan At TE?


FRISCO, Texas - With the 2022 NFL Draft just more than a week away, this is time where NFL teams usually hit the pause button for a moment.

Of course, the door isn't closed, but this is the stretch of year where NFL teams, including the Cowboys, are knee-deep in preparations for adding a new draft class.

For the most part, the dust has settled for now, knowing it will pick up significantly on April 28, the start of the draft.

So let's look back at each position, with a free-agent recap, and look ahead to see if there's more left to do.

Today, we'll continue by looking at the tight end position.

What Happened:

  • Two big developments shaped the way we're looking at the Cowboys' tight end situation moving forward, and they're at least partially linked together. For starters, word surfaced back in February that Blake Jarwin had undergone offseason surgery on the hip injury that forced him to miss half of last season. The procedure was significant enough that Jarwin's availability for the 2022 season is in doubt, and the Cowboys eventually released him, terminating the four-year, $22 million contract extension back in 2020.
  • That decision made Dalton Schultz's status as an impending free agent that much more significant. Schultz was already one of the Cowboys' top priorities, having caught 141 passes for 1,423 yards and 12 total touchdowns over the past two seasons. Losing Jarwin only served to emphasize Schultz's importance to the offense, and the Cowboys eventually decided to place the franchise tag on their 2018 fourth-round draft pick, guaranteeing him a one-year salary of $10.9 million.
  • With Schultz officially tagged, the Cowboys still only had two, inexperienced options behind him in Sean McKeon and Ian Bunting. With that in mind, they re-signed veteran Jeremy Sprinkle to a one-year contract. Sprinkle didn't have much of a role as a receiver last season, but he played a sizable percentage of snaps in multiple-tight end sets – especially following Jarwin's injury on Oct. 31. Sprinkle also played a large role on special teams. At the very least, the signing gives them an experienced and versatile backup.

What's Next:

  • It's going to be interesting to see how the franchise tag conversation plays out with Dalton Schultz. The last two Cowboys players to be tagged, DeMarcus Lawrence and Dak Prescott, were always bound to get big-time extensions. It was only a matter of time. The Cowboys have expressed interest in re-signing Schultz, and Schultz said as recently as April 18 that this is where he'd like to be for the longterm.
  • Actions still speak louder than words, however, and the two sides now have until mid-July to work out an extension that would likely pay Schultz $11 million per year, at the absolute minimum. It's important to remember that a new contract wouldn't just keep Schultz in place for the long haul, but it'd also bring down his hefty salary cap figure.
  • If the Cowboys opt to let Schultz play on the tag, he'd likely hit free agency in 2023 with a chance to be one of the most high-profile tight ends in next year's free agent class.

Feeling A Draft?

The blunt truth of the matter could be that the Cowboys' attitude toward signing Dalton Schultz hinges on what happens in next weeks' draft.

Regardless of Schultz's future with the team, tight end is a noteworthy need on this roster. The Cowboys haven't spent a draft pick on a tight end since they selected Schultz No. 137 overall, all the way back in 2018. Even if they ink him to a multi-year extension, it would be smart to draft and develop a quality backup.

There's always the possibility of drafting a tight end of the future, however. The consensus among draft analysts seems to be that there isn't a surefire first-round tight end in this year's draft class, but there is plenty of quality to be found starting in the second round.

Colorado State's Trey McBride, UCLA's Greg Dulcich, Washington's Cade Otton and Iowa State's Charlie Kolar are all names worth knowing – all of whom might be selected in the Top 100 picks. Virginia tight end Jelani Woods, who boasts impressive athleticism despite his 6'7 frame, has been heavily linked to the Cowboys as a possibility.

Perhaps one of those names could become a starter for the future, as the coaching staff lets him learn behind Schultz for a year before taking the reins in 2023. It's an intriguing thought, but it will depend on how favorably the draft board falls.

One way or another, the Cowboys' fortunes in this year's draft could shape their tight end situation for the next few years.

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