The Dallas Cowboys may have put themselves in a bit of a precarious situation at the tight end position moving forward. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either, as each option may be just as successful as any of the others.
The situation they are in has led to legitimate questions about whether rookie tight ends Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot have knocked Dalton Schultz out of the Cowboys’ plans after this season when his franchise tag is up. There is a case to be made on either side of it, and let’s look into why both make sense.
The case for Cowboys to keep Dalton Schultz
To start, let’s look at why keeping Schultz around makes sense. That proof comes right in the form of a safety blanket for quarterback Dak Prescott. He goes to Schultz often and sees quite a bit of success when doing so.
Dating back to the beginning of the 2021 season, Schultz has totaled 113 catches, 1,151 yards, and 11 touchdowns. All of those are second on the Cowboys’ roster only to CeeDee Lamb. Schultz has clearly made himself a top target and gained the trust of Prescott. His average reception in 2021 was 10.4 yards, and is 9.8 this season. The guy is practically a walking first down.
Schultz is currently on the franchise tag with a price of $10.93 million this year. Should he stick around with the Cowboys, estimates are that his new contract is projected near the 4-year, $54 million range with $30 million guaranteed. That averages out to $13.5 million per year, and would put him just outside the top-five tight end contracts. It isn’t strapping the Cowboys financially, but he won’t come cheap either.
The case for Cowboys to go with Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot
That leads into the case of how Hendershot and Ferguson may be carving themselves a bigger piece of the offensive pie that doesn’t include Schultz moving forward. They are rookies on team-friendly deals that can help the Cowboys build the roster elsewhere.
Hendershot is on a three-year contract worth $2.575 million, averaging just over $850,000 per year. Ferguson is on a four-year contract worth $4.36 million, averaging out to roughly $1.09 million per year. Combined, the two are just under a cap hit of $2 million.
The cap space and contract side of things is pretty cut and dry. Getting down to it, the Cowboys could roster both Ferguson and Hendershot for the next three seasons on a total hit that wouldn’t equal one year of Schultz’s new contract.
The not-so-clear case is the on-field output. So far this year, Hendershot and Ferguson have combined for 26 catches, 222 yards, and three receiving touchdowns — plus one rushing touchdown from Hendershot. The two of them are not matching Schultz, but that is more than likely due to opportunities given more than anything else. Where they do make this intriguing is in terms of yards per catch. Hendershot is averaging 8.3 yards per catch, while Ferguson is at 8.7 yards per catch. Given an uptick in opportunities, one’s imagination doesn’t have to work hard to envision them becoming safety blanket first down targets.
The final piece of the puzzle comes down to Dak Prescott. If you think that Prescott doesn’t get a say in the offense’s plans moving forward, do I have news for you. Prescott will get every bit of say in the Cowboys’ tight end plans moving forward. If he demands Schultz returns, it is hard to see the Cowboys disregarding their franchise quarterback’s opinion.
Should Prescott and the offense feel comfortable in their two rookies moving forward, general manager Jerry Jones may have $8-10 million of cap space to play with.
With three capable tight ends on the roster that have all found the end zone at least twice on the season, the Cowboys are faced with an embarrassment of riches at the position. While this is a good problem to have, it’s still a problem, and one that will only gain steam as the Cowboys navigate things with Schultz on the franchise tag.