This question has been looming the better part of a year now. We knew leading into the 2021 NFL season the Dallas Cowboys would have some tough decisions to make regarding Dalton Schultz. But that tough decision only grew tougher as the season unfolded and now sit less than two months from D-Day in the NFL.
On March 16, Dalton Schultz becomes a free agent and what happens then is anyone’s guess. The Dallas Cowboys typically handle their internal business the days leading up to the opening bell. Chances are, we’ll have to wait until then to learn of Schultz’s fate.
But let’s take a quick moment to break down Schultz’s game, look at the market rate, and decide how high the Dallas Cowboys can go on any potential contract offer
How much is Dalton Schultz worth and should the Dallas Cowboys pay it?
The tight end position is a tricky one. Part offensive lineman, part receiver, and part full back, NFL tight ends are jacks-of-all-trades. It should be no wonder why the typical development time for a TE seems to be so much longer than that of players at other positions.
Dalton Schultz is no exception to the rule.
The prospect out of Stanford might have been lacking the ceiling of Jarwin and Gathers, but he arrived with a higher floor so he made for a valuable addition. And besides Swaim, he was the only tight end on the roster that could actually block.
In time, Schultz developed. He demanded more snaps each season until in 2020 he catapulted from TE3 all the way to TE1 (when Jason Witten left and Blake Jarwin fell to a season-ending injury in Week 1).
This tremendous leap on the depth chart sent fear up the spine of Cowboys Nation. What could be expected of a reserve blocking specialist suddenly thrust into a starting role? Was that to be the end of the pass catching TE in the Dallas Cowboys offense?
Surly not. As I pointed out then, Dalton Schultz was exclusively a blocker the year before. His lack of receptions was a product of his role, not a hole in his skillset. You can’t catch if they don’t target you and that’s exactly what happened to Dalton.
Schultz would go on to have a pretty nice season that first year as TE1. Pulling in 63 balls for 618 yards and 4 TDs is was quite the leap in a single season. Dalton built on his blocking and became a solid all-around TE for the Dallas Cowboys. So much so he not only gave Blake Jarwin a run for his money in the starting competition in 2021, but he held onto the TE1 job and never came close to relinquishing it.
This past season Schultz built on his 2020 numbers and saw an uptick in receptions, yardage, touchdowns, catch percentage, and yards per target. The problem was the bottom fell out in his blocking…
Dalton Schultz was once regarded as the best blocking TE on the Dallas Cowboys. In 2019 he was clearly better than both Jason Witten and Blake Jarwin (not terribly difficult feats but worth pointing out). That continued in 2020 as the surprise starter.
But in 2021 the proficiency of his blocking fell off considerably. While his feel for zones in the passing game elevated to a new level, blocking at the line took a back seat. So much so it became a well documented liability each week in film review.
So while Schultz took his pass catching to all new levels (his ability to make the first man miss is a criminally underdiscussed trait of his), his blocking ability disappeared. So what gives?
This is the question the Dallas Cowboys have to be asking themselves this winter because if blocking isn’t important there are dozens of cheaper options out there who are arguably more explosive as pass-catchers. But if the blocking was an anomaly and can be corrected, then Schultz may very well be worth locking up long term this offseason.
Whether it’s focus, the scheme, the coaching staff, or Schultz, we just don’t know. But the Dallas Cowboys front office better find out.
Pro Football Focus estimates Dalton Schultz to earn a 4-year deal averaging $11.25M per season as their second best tight end hitting the market. Spotrac estimates he’ll command 4-years/$50,722,888 deal averaging $12.68M per season.
That ain’t chump change, folks.
Keep in mind, the cost to franchise tag a tight end in 2021 was $9.6M. While that figure is guaranteed to go up this year with the rising salary cap, it gives us a pretty good idea what the top-5 TEs in the NFL are worth.
The last question the Dallas Cowboys must ask themselves is whether or not Dalton Schultz is still progressing or if he’s just been a product of the environment. The numbers show a year over year improvement. But the details tell us in 2020 he jumped from TE3 to TE1 (thus explaining the career year) and in 2021 he got to play a full season with Dak Prescott. It seems anyone in that position would be showing year-over-year improvement.
This is a tough one because the Dallas Cowboys can’t afford to commit more money on offense at the expense of the defense. Tough decisions must be made and replaceable players must be replaced. Is Dalton Schultz one of them? Possibly, but rookies take time to develop so Dallas better have a Plan B in mind if they decide to let Dalton walk because he’s better than many are giving him credit for.
One thing is clear: Dallas cannot afford to keep both Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz this season. One or possibly both need to go. So would you rather Schultz at $12M or Jarwin at $6.25M