FRISCO, Texas - If you're not getting better, you're getting worse. That's a phrase that can be used often in any circumstance, but especially in football, where the NFL is driven by parity every season.
The Cowboys were able to make a run and get into the playoffs, winning the NFC East for the third time in five seasons. But even owner/GM Jerry Jones has made it clear that his team needs to keep improving and take its success to the next level.
So as we head into the 2019 offseason, let's look at each position on the team and what needs to transpire so the Cowboys can indeed take that next step.
Today, we'll break down the tight ends.
His Next Step?
Blake Jarwin had never scored a touchdown in his two-year career. Dec. 30 at the Giants, he joined Billy Joe DuPree (1973) as only the second tight end in Cowboys history with three touchdown catches in a single game. That breakout performance in the regular-season finale propelled Jarwin, a part-time 53-man roster member in 2017, to the team lead in catches among tight ends (27) in 2018. Jarwin might have the highest ceiling of any tight end on the roster from a pure receiver standpoint. The next step would appear to be improving his consistency finishing plays as a receiver and rounding out his game as a functional blocker.
Their Next Step?
Nobody casts a larger shadow, literally, than Jason Witten. A 20-foot-tall mural of the retired 11-time Pro Bowler hangs between the locker room and Ford Center at The Star in Frisco. No one asked this young group (Geoff Swaim, Jarwin, 2018 fourth-round pick Dalton Schultz and Rico Gathers) to emulate Witten's Hall of Fame worthy production. But the offense needs someone to step up as a consistent threat in the middle of the field and in the red zone. Jarwin provided the best example in the regular-season finale at the Meadowlands. Schultz improved in the final 10 games, making all 12 of his season catches after being inactive for a six-game stretch. Gathers, still transitioning back to football after a college basketball career, earned a few snaps per game mostly as a blocker.
Decisions to Make?
Swaim is the only Cowboys tight end not under contract for 2019, and that's an important distinction. Only Swaim had recorded an NFL catch prior to 2018, and this past season he proved to be the team's most complete tight end before missing the final six games and playoffs with a broken wrist. Swaim is a capable blocker and underrated pass-catcher. Injuries have been the only thing holding him back.
Even with the above-mentioned young talent, the Cowboys could look for tight end experience in free agency – something they didn't do last season, since Witten didn't retire until May – in the event that Swaim doesn't return. And, this year's draft class looks relatively deep at tight end past the first round, where the Cowboys don't have a pick.