Tight end Dalton Schultz is heading into another offseason as an unrestricted free agent, having spent 2022 on the franchise tag. How did this season help or hurt Schultz’s stock? Is there any chance that the Dallas Cowboys might tag him a second time?
Looking at Dalton’s stats for the year doesn’t really help. For one, he missed two games due to a knee injury and was hampered in other games by it. There was also the give-game absence of QB Dak Prescott which affected all passing game numbers and seemed to especially hurt Schultz as one of Dak’s favorite targets. Cooper Rush leaned on other guys, like WR Noah Brown, more than the starting tight end.
Dalton Schultz 2022 stats
As such, Dalton’s stats for the year dropped to just 57 catches for 577 yards and five touchdowns. While the mitigating factors mentioned above certainly matter, and will be strongly highlighted by Schultz’s agent this offseason, it’s hardly the way he hoped to enter another round of free agency.
In the end, anything that Schultz did or didn’t do for the Cowboys in 2022 may not have really changed his future with this team. With a second year on the franchise tag jumping his projected salary to over $13 million in 2023, it’s long been considered unlikely that Dalton would be tagged again. When Dallas spent a fourth-round pick on TE Jake Ferguson in last year’s draft, the same round where Schultz was drafted in 2018, many viewed this as the replacement plan for Dalton next season.
Many have shared the perception of Dalton Schultz that he’s not an elite talent among NFL tight ends, even when he’s put up some of the best numbers among his peers. He’s seen as more of a beneficiary of the Cowboys’ high-volume offense than a catalyst for it. This even goes back to last year and the debate about whether or not he deserved to be franchised; how much would Dallas really miss Schultz?
Jake Ferguson showed promise
While rarely on the field as the team’s primary tight end, Ferguson’s numbers in 2022 suggest he could fill Dalton’s shoes. He was a high-efficiency target with 19 catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns on just 22 receptions. We saw the rookie’s ability to make plays after the catch and be an athletic receiving option. Even undrafted Peyton Hendershot had similar productivity on his touches; 11 catches for 103 yards and two touchdowns on 16 targets.
With Ferguson and Hendershot potentially a viable one-two punch at tight end for 2023, Schultz’s only realistic chance of staying in Dallas next year was to prove himself as being a special talent. But even if injury and Dak’s absence limited some of his potential to prove things in 2022, Dalton’s 2021 season and all other work we’ve seen from him doesn’t lend itself to that perception.
49ers game was ugly
That difference between the special or elite NFL tight ends and a guy like Schultz was on display in the Cowboys’ playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers. While George Kittle made the play of the game with his incredible juggling catch, helping facilitate arguably the game-winning drive for the Niners, Schultz made two big mistakes on Dallas’ final drive which killed whatever faint hopes remained for a comeback.
With Dallas needing to preserve the clock, Schutz took a pass to the sideline but then didn’t fight for forward progress on the way out of bounds. That kept the clock running and came more from a lack of situational awareness, or perhaps even effort, on Dalton’s part. Shortly after, Schultz got took a sideline catch and didn’t seem to try to get his second foot down. It was ruled as an incompletion after review.
While these were just two mistakes on one drive, they do illustrate the point. Special players make special plays. In his five years with the Cowboys, Dalton Schultz has had plenty of production but how many times has he made you say, “Wow?” If you can’t think of many, then you know Dallas’ front office probably has had a similar experience.
Barring some unforeseen option, like his being willing to take a massive pay cut to stay, Dalton Schultz doesn’t feel like someone that Dallas will work hard to keep in 2023. He’s done plenty of good things for just a former fourth-round pick. But with Jake Ferguson already flashing potential, the Cowboys should focus their salary cap space elsewhere.