The Dallas Cowboys have franchise-tagged tight end Dalton Schultz, which means that barring a major abnormality, he’ll be part of the team in 2022.
That’s the good news, but there should be even better news on the horizon for the Cowboys. Figuring out a way to reach a long-term deal is still possible, and it makes sense for both Schultz and Dallas.
It’s a rare win-win in contract negotiations, and Dallas should aggressively pursue it.
Dalton Schultz has gotten better year-by-year for the Dallas Cowboys
What’s not to like about Schultz?
He’s a big tight end at 6-foot-6, 244-pounds, but he’s also developed into a slick route runner and has shown off a pair of soft hands. Schultz notched 63 receptions for 615 yards and four touchdowns in 2020, only to follow that up with 78 catches for 808 yards and eight touchdowns in 2021.
He’s clearly earned the trust of quarterback Dak Prescott, and that’s 90% of the job description for pass-catching tight ends. He’s become one of Prescott’s go-to receivers in big spots and specifically in the red zone, where Schultz’s size and ability to quickly get open have become extremely valuable.
Schultz was Dallas’ third-leading receiver last season, and in terms of catches, he had just one less than CeeDee Lamb, who led the team with 78. Schultz also tied with Amari Cooper for second on the team in targets with 104.
The Cowboys can’t let Schultz get away long-term
It has been a tough offseason in Dallas. Not only are the Cowboys reeling from their Super Wild Card Weekend loss at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers, but head coach Mike McCarthy has come under fire, and his long-term future is far from certain. On top of it all, the Cowboys are in a tight salary cap situation and have already had to trade Cooper to alleviate some of it.
After franchise tagging Schultz and trading Cooper, Dallas is still $18.4 million over the cap with 25 more free agents to consider.
Tagging Schultz was a good move for Dallas in the short term because, at the very least, the Cowboys have some assurances. Other teams can still actually negotiate with the big tight end because the franchise tag is non-exclusive, but if they want his services, Dallas can either match the offer or receive two first-round picks as compensation. It seems unlikely that any other team will jump in the fray with that in mind.
The Cowboys could call it a job well done and let Schultz play on the franchise tag in 2022, pushing long-term negotiations out to the next offseason. There’s potentially a better way, though.
The Cowboys should use this franchise tag time to negotiate a long-term deal with Schultz before July 15th and keep him in Dallas for a while longer.
Schultz is a valuable player to have locked in long-term
You can’t undersell the importance of a reliable tight end in today’s NFL.
The league is obviously all-in on the passing game, which means that quarterback is naturally the most crucial position on the field. The Cowboys have their quarterback in the $40 million man, Prescott.
Having talented wide receivers becomes almost as important as the quarterback, but a good tight end can act as an x-factor that can help take an offense to the next level. Frankly, wide receivers are a dime-a-dozen in 2022. In fact, there are around five to seven in this year’s draft class alone that look to be potential stars.
Star tight ends are so much harder to come by, though, and that’s why they’re able to flip the script for the teams that have them.
Look at what George Kittle has meant San Francisco 49ers, and there’s no doubting the fact that Travis Kelce is arguably the main reason Patrick Mahomes has been so successful with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Schultz isn’t at that level yet, and he might not ever be, but he’s proven over the past two seasons that he can be amongst the upper echelon at the position. The thing that matters more than anything, though, is that he has the trust of his quarterback, and he and Prescott are clearly on the same page.
Locking Schultz up long-term makes a ton of sense for the Cowboys, but it’s not just a football move
He’ll cost $10.9 million playing on the franchise tag in 2022, and that cap space can’t be manipulated. If he receives a multi-year contract, though, the Cowboys can spread his cap hit throughout the agreement. That gives Dallas much more wiggle room to continue working with this offseason.
It’s a win-win for both parties, so why not if you’re the Cowboys?
Schultz may never be Jason Witten, but he looks like he could be the next best thing, and those types of upper echelon tight ends don’t just grow on trees.