A key Dak Prescott target for years, Dalton Schultz did not have the opportunity to test free agency last year. The veteran Cowboys tight end likely will in March.
It is believed the Cowboys will not be ready to pay Schultz enough to keep him from hitting the market and ultimately leaving town, Todd Archer of ESPN.com notes. With a modest wide receiver crop set to become free agents, Schultz stands to be one of the top pass catchers available.
It would cost the Cowboys just more than $13MM to tag Schultz again, but the team is believed to be preparing to tag Tony Pollard. The Pro Bowl running back is indeed squarely on the tag radar, Archer confirms. The running back tag being only $10.1MM — the second-lowest tag figure — makes that a more appealing solution for teams with upper-echelon backs nearing free agency. Teams have until 3pm CT March 7 to tag players. The Cowboys negotiated with Schultz ahead of last year’s deadline; contract length stood as one of the issues that impeded an agreement.
Schultz, 26, did not match his 2021 production but served as CeeDee Lamb‘s top complement down the stretch for the 12-5 team. Upon returning from an early-season knee injury, Schultz struggled to develop a rapport with Cooper Rush. But the former fourth-round pick posted two two-touchdown games during the season’s second half. His 38.5 receiving yards per game, however, ranked 12th among tight ends last season. Schultz, who became needed as a post-Jason Witten option after Blake Jarwin found injuries too difficult to surmount, topped that number in 2021 — an 808-yard, eight-touchdown season that led the Cowboys to tag him.
Schultz’s 2021 numbers, at full strength and with Prescott fully available, will likely entice teams. Both tight ends that played last season on the tag — Schultz and the Dolphins’ Mike Gesicki — are expected to hit the market. Gesicki is coming off a bigger production decrease compared to Schultz. Evan Engram is on track for free agency as well, but the Jaguars have the tag as a weapon to prevent that. Engram not reaching free agency would help Schultz and Gesicki, thinning the talent pool at the position. Austin Hooper, Hayden Hurst and Robert Tonyan are also free agents-to-be.
The Cowboys used a fourth-round pick on Jake Ferguson last year, and Archer adds the team is fond of three-year backup Sean McKeon. Ferguson led all other Dallas tight ends with 174 yards last season. If Schultz leaves, the Cowboys should be expected to eye a cheaper replacement in free agency or seek more help in what is viewed as a tight end-rich draft. NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah called it the best tight end class in a decade (Twitter link).