Why the Dallas Cowboys needed to retain TE Dalton Schultz

. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

When the Dallas Cowboys slapped Dalton Schultz with their 2022 Franchise Tag, much of Cowboys Nation went up in arms. How could the team that was belligerently proclaiming to be up against the cap and forced to cut/trade top players, suddenly able to slot over $10M in salary cap space to the tight end position?

It seemed preposterous Stephen Jones valued Dalton Schultz and the TE position more than La’el Collins at RT and Amari Cooper at WR1, but that’s what he seemed to be saying when he sent the two packing in order to clear room for Schultz’s tag.

WR1 and OT are widely considered two of the most important positions on a team. They are generally two of the highest paid positions and the loss of both Collins and Cooper will likely result in a positional downgrade at those key spots.

TE isn’t regarded nearly as high by NFL teams. Of the 11 position group classifications, TE is at the bottom of the compensation chart. Teams just don’t value TE like they do other positions. Except the Cowboys apparently.

Tagging Dalton Schultz seemed like madness at first, but the Dallas Cowboys were simply dealing with the situation

That’s not to say Dalton Schultz is a bad player or unworthy of the franchise tag. Schultz was one of the best (if not THE best) tight end on the free agent market this season. His projected annual compensation amount was actually higher than the cost to tag him, so it makes some financial sense to do what the Dallas Cowboys did, after all.

When you consider the recent loss of Blake Jarwin (TE2), Schultz’s importance only grew in Dallas. Suddenly a team that enjoys loads of 12 personnel (2TE sets), was potentially without their top-2 TEs. With no one in the pipeline (all due respect to Sean McKeon’s development), Dallas either had to lock Schultz up or bargain hunt in free agency to fill the void(s) and live with the inevitable consequences.

Many Dallas Cowboys fans see Dalton Schultz as a replaceable part. Someone who benefited from the opportunities of playing TE1 in the Dallas Cowboys high-powered offense. An offense that loves to throw to the TE position. And I don’t disagree.

The idea of spending big (the tag) on a guy who’s production could easily be replaced is upsetting. Especially in an offseason that saw Cooper, Collins, and Randy Gregory leave. What made matters worse was the upcoming TE class in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Seen as one of the deepest tight end classes in years, good players are going to be available in the 3rd and 4th round of this draft. A future Pro Bowler or two can be found in those middle rounds by some projections. So why would Dallas dedicate so much cap space to a replaceable guy, at a replaceable position, at the cost of irreplaceable guys at irreplaceable positions?

Time and circumstance.

It takes time for tight ends to develop. Part offensive lineman/part receiver, the tight end position can be a complicated beast. What makes matters worse is how so many are used in the college game. Most pass-catching tight ends are flexed out into the slot in college. So when the time comes to executing inline blocking assignments in the NFL, they inevitably struggle.

The Dallas Cowboys franchise tagged Dalton Schultz because they were scared of the alternative and let’s face it, the possible short-term alternatives were/are scary.

Look how long it took Dalton Schultz to learn the NFL game. And he’s a smart guy from a sophisticated TE program (Stanford) who played a lot of college snaps inline. Many of these promising prospects will be starting considerably behind where Schultz was in his development. As such, expecting any of them to hit the ground running would be optimistic to say the least.

I can hear it now: Schultz still can’t block so what does it matter? While it’s clear Dalton struggled with blocking assignments last year, he has two years of plus-level blocking under his belt, so last year was more the exception than the rule.

It’s also worth pointing out TEs struggle blocking all over the league. For reasons just explained, they aren’t as good as they used to be. Before the offseason began I watched film on most of the pending free agent TEs and let me tell you – they all struggled. We seem to have lost perspective on what an average blocker looks like at the TE position.

The Dallas Cowboys couldn’t afford to lose both of their TEs in the same offseason. For better or for worse, they didn’t want to roll the dice on cheap free agent options either. So they committed big money to keep Dalton Schultz for the year.

Chances are they will draft an early-to-mid-round TE next month and with any luck, develop him into a starter to replace the costly Schultz in 2023.

Would I rather keep Gregory, Cooper, and/or Collins? Yes, but that’s a false choice because no one technically needed to be cut. The Dallas Cowboys just decided to let them go (for various reasons we’ve discussed ad nauseum).

The Dallas Cowboys franchise tagged Dalton Schultz because they were scared of the alternative and let’s face it, the possible short-term alternatives were/are scary. Now, if they offer a long-term deal at upper market prices, that will be tough to explain, defend, and/or justify, but for now this looks like decent decision based on some pretty unsavory circumstances.

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Who do you think the starting TE will be in Dallas in 2023?