With the Dallas Cowboys offense struggling prior to Week 13, why would they sideline this potential playmaker for the rest of the season?
Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten continues to be the offensive stalwart he’s always been. Even at age 35, Witten is currently second on the team with 51 receptions for 437 yards and four touchdowns. But beyond the future Hall of Famer, there has been little to no production at the tight end position.
And that’s understandable, with the Cowboys offensive struggles as of late plus the many mouths that quarterback Dak Prescott has to feed. But the fact Witten’s back-ups, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin have a combined three catches in 12 games is a bit worrisome. Especially considering the Cowboys had a bonafide breakout star in the preseason at the tight end position.
When the Cowboys selected Baylor basketball star Rico Gathers with their final selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, they knew they were getting a developmental project. Gathers hadn’t played organized football since middle school. And now he was attempting to make the difficult transition to the NFL.
But at 6-foot-6, 285 pounds, Gathers possesses a massive frame to go along with unique athletic ability. Last season, he spent the entire season on the practice squad. The then 22-year old worked with legendary tight end coach Mike Pope, became a recovering Tony Romo‘s favorite end zone target in practices, and even took some reps as an offensive lineman to work on his blocking skills.
All that effort seemed to pay off in the preseason, with Gathers racking up seven receptions for 106 yards and two touchdowns in two games. It was an impressive debut that clearly earmarked the young tight end as an offensive X-factor.
But Gathers suffered a severe concussion during an early August practice that eventually landed him on Injured Reserve. And despite the fact the talented red zone target was eligible to return from IR a few weeks ago, it now appears the Cowboys brass have decided to shelf the prospect for another season.
"“Probably at the end of the day because we had other tight ends on our roster, probably the best thing for [Gathers] is going to be to start fresh there in the off-season and get back in the groove and get another off-season under his belt,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones told 105.3 The Fan via the Star-Telegram. “We have great expectations for him, but I think it’s real difficult after sitting out this long for him to come in and really make a difference.”"
Currently, the Cowboys depth chart at tight end is bloated. Witten’s presence is a no-brainer. And both Hanna and Swaim are proven commodities who are adequate as both blockers and receivers. Jarwin was promoted to the active roster midseason when rumors were that several NFL teams were interested in signing him away from the practice squad.
The truth is, the Cowboys don’t need five tight ends on this roster. And if Dallas activates Gathers off of IR, which they aren’t required to do, they’ll have to part ways with someone.
Contract-wise, Witten inked a five-year extension back in March, but should be considered year-to-year at this point of his career. Both Hanna and Swaim are locked up through 2018. And Jarwin is currently on a three-year deal.
Could Rico Gathers help the Dallas Cowboys right now? Sure. Another giant red zone target would surely aid Dak Prescott in the Cowboys push for a Wild Card slot in the playoffs. But Gathers would also be a liability as a blocker. With a bloated roster to consider, along with his long layoff and the fact Rico is comfortably stashed away on IR right now, Dallas’ front office appears to be in no rush to bring the young man back this season.