Is Franchise-Tagging Dalton Schultz A Realistic Option For Cowboys?

Photo: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys are entering a crucial offseason where several difficult decisions must be made. Dallas' 2021 season reached an unceremonious close following their wild-card weekend defeat to the surging San Francisco 49ers. Owner Jerry Jones decided to retain Mike McCarthy as the team's head coach going forward, and will now focus on upgrading the personnel on both sides of the ball. 

Several key players for the Cowboys are set to hit free agency, including Randy Gregory, Michael Gallup, Leighton Vander Esch, Cedrick Wilson, Connor Williams, Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker, Keanu Neal, and Damontae Kazee. The Cowboys are currently north of $21 million OVER the 2022 salary cap and must get creative this offseason as they attempt to keep the majority of their playmakers together.

One of the larger decisions the Cowboys must make this offseason centers around tight end Dalton Schultz. 

The former Stanford standout exploded onto the scene in 2021, recording career-highs in receptions (78), receiving yards (808), touchdowns (8), and yards per reception (10.4). Schultz now prepares to reach free agency as arguably the most sought-after tight end on the market alongside Mike Gesicki. Several tight end-hungry teams should be searching for pass-catching help in free agency, and Schultz will have no shortage of lucrative offers. 

The Cowboys could fend off potential suitors by placing the franchise tag on Schultz, which is currently set to be priced around $10-11 million in 2022. With the tag serving as a one-year solution, Schultz's entire salary would be guaranteed for 2022 and his cap hit number would reflect the entirety of the tag. Given the Cowboys' less-than-desirable cap situation, they would be hard-pressed to fit Schultz into their plans at a 2022 cap hit that would be nearly $11 million. Should Dallas be interested in retaining Schultz's services, agreeing on a long-term extension that would allow them to spread out the financial details while significantly lowering his cap hit for 2022 would represent the best avenue of business.

Talks regarding a long-term contract would make sense given Schultz's breakout performance, familiarity with Dallas' passing offense, and unfortunate salary cap woes, but that doesn't necessarily mean Schultz would earn less annually than what the tag would provide. As one of the top tight ends on the market, Schultz will likely approach, or even surpass, the deal signed by New England Patriots tight end Hunter Henry in free agency a year ago. 

Henry agreed to a three-year, $37 million with the Patriots in March of 2020, a lucrative, multi-year deal that pays him north of $12 million annually. The majority of Henry's money was spread throughout 2022 and 2023 in the form of signing bonuses, a benefit that allowed the Patriots to lower Henry's 2021 cap hit to just $6.8 million. It represents the exact type of contract and terms the Cowboys could be targeting when entering negotiations with Schultz.

None of this guarantees that Schultz will be back in Dallas for 2022. The Cowboys' salary cap situation means they'll have to make some difficult decisions regarding which free agents to retain and which to let walk. The presence of tight end Blake Jarwin makes the Schultz case particularly interesting. The Cowboys may realistically view Jarwin as a capable in-house replacement. Jarwin, who is cheaply signed through the 2023 campaign, may shine in a similar light if thrust into Schultz's role, and that would allow the Cowboys to spend their resources elsewhere.

We're entering an unpredictable offseason in Dallas and the decisions made over the next few months will ultimately shape their 2022 season.

Written By:

Justin Melo

Staff Writer

Justin Melo is an NFL draft analyst that cut his teeth at The Draft Breakdown and USA Today's Draft Wire. He specializes in interviewing prospects, but also produces big boards, mock drafts, and scouting reports. He also covers the Tennessee Titans nationally for Broadway Sports Media and SB Nation.