Cowboys to write ending for twisted script at tight end

The Cowboys’ roster will look different heading into the 2022 season after the departures of WR Amari Cooper and DE Randy Gregory. Dallas signed a couple of veterans in free agency (WR James Washington, DE Dante Fowler), but the front office still has holes to fill. This is the fourth of a 10-part series evaluating the roster entering the April 28-30 draft. Today’s focus is on tight ends:

An oft-recycled Hollywood movie plotline features one or two characters who, be it by choice or fate, experience a drastic identity disruption. Tom Hanks became “Big.” Nicolas Cage and John Travolta faced off. Eddie Murphy traded places.

Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz could inspire a sports adaptation.

Their past two seasons featured a sudden, twisted switch.

In March 2020, Jarwin was newly signed to a three-year contract extension worth up to $24.2 million. Schultz, his closest friend and most ardent supporter on the team, was coming off a season in which he caught four penalties and one pass. This March, the team placed the $10.9 million franchise tag on Schultz and released Jarwin three days later.

The Cowboys now enter the draft seeking a complement to Schultz.

Even for a league where careers rapidly rise and fall families like in America, what happened these past two years inside the Cowboys’ tight end room may set a land speed record.

Jarwin experienced a cruel sequence of injuries. He first tore his right ACL in non-contact fashion during the second quarter of the Cowboys’ first game of the 2020 season. Schultz stepped in and finished the year with 63 catches for 615 yards and four touchdowns.

Jarwin returned last year but seemed a shadow of himself before a hip injury that had hampered him finally ended his season. It is believed he became the first active NFL player to undergo hip resurfacing surgery when he had the procedure done in February. He rehabs now as a free agent. Meanwhile, Schultz caught another 78 passes for 808 yards and eight touchdowns.

Since the Cowboys find themselves playing a major part in this script, they need to write their own ending.

That almost certainly involves selecting a tight end in Day 2 or 3 of the draft.

Sean McKeon, who signed with Dallas in 2020 as an undrafted rookie from Michigan and has impressed, currently projects as the No. 2 option. But he dealt with neck stingers last season that could give the Cowboys pause about making him Plan A.

Jeremy Sprinkle and Ian Bunting, in that order, round out the group.

Draft need: 9 out of 10

On the roster

Player Age years left
Dalton Schultz 25 one
Sean McKeon 24 one
Jeremy Sprinkle 27 one
Ian Bunting 26 two

Schultz carries this conversation.

He has developed into a steady option for quarterback Dak Prescott. Sure, he lacks the catch radius of longer-levered tight ends and won’t routinely bury defensive ends into the dirt with his run blocking. But there are plenty of examples on film sealing rushing lanes as an inline blocker, and he offers sneaky ability after the catch.

Few players on the Cowboys have been as reliable as Schultz.

Now, is that enough for Dallas to sign him to a multi-year contract before the July 15 deadline for franchise tag players? The Cowboys will assess that question in the weeks following the draft.

Position weaknesses

Sprinkle is primarily a blocker and special teamer. McKeon and Bunting are unknown.

The Cowboys simply need to become more dynamic behind Schultz.

The two personnel groupings that offensive coordinator Kellen Moore relies upon most as a play caller are “11″ — one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers — and “12″ — one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers. From a personnel standpoint, Dallas enters the draft weaker in both packages following Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson’s departures, Michael Gallup’s ACL tear and Jarwin’s hip surgery.

If Dallas is to boast a multiple offense that can attack opponents in a variety of ways, more talent is required.

This is a tremendous year to go shopping at tight end with the depth of available draft talent.

draft prospects

Greg Dulcich, UCLA — Like Jarwin, not a natural inline tight end but can stretch a secondary with his build-up speed. He totaled 42 catches for 725 yards, five TDs in 2021.

Trey McBride, Colorado St. — Three-sport star in high school. As a college senior, he totaled 90 catches for 1,121 yards to win the John Mackey Award for the nation’s top tight end.

Charlie Kolar, Iowa State — Forty-yard dashes are cool, but how many prospects earned a 3.99 cumulated GPA in mechanical engineering? Oklahoma native has the size, length and catch ability to make impact in NFL.

Jelani Woods, Virginia — At 6-7 and 252 pounds, I have reportedly clocked a ridiculous 6.95 seconds in the three-cone drill at his pro day. He visited the Cowboys’ facility.

Cade Otton, Washington — A plus-route runner from inline position. Interviewed with teams at combine but didn’t work out because of ankle surgery. Also visited the Cowboy’s facility.

Cowboys position series

QB | RB | WR | YOU | More positions coming soon…

Find more Cowboys coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.

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