Saturday, August 13, 2022

Cowboys’ Dalton Schultz locked into 2022 franchise tag after contract talks deteriorate, no multi-year deal

Contract negotiations didn’t go as smoothly as Dalton Schultz had anticipated or would’ve liked, to say the very least. After months of attempting to get the Dallas Cowboys to present an offer he deemed palatable, the two sides never once came close to agreeing to terms on a multi-year deal that would lock him in beyond the 2022 season, and the age-old adage of “deadlines make deals” didn’t come to fruition this time for the Cowboys — neither side acquiescing to the demands of the other.

With the NFL deadline of 4 p.m. ET on July 15 having passed (the final date and time for players assigned a franchise tag to sign a long-term deal to avoid playing under said tag), Schultz and the Cowboys remained apart on his value and no deal was struck, guaranteeing he’ll again be a free agent next offseason. 

As an early point of order, it’s unlikely the Cowboys would issue a second tag to Schultz, considering it would cost them 120% of his 2022 salary. Given he’s now set to play the coming season under what amounts to a one-year deal worth a fully-guaranteed sum of $10.931 million, a second tag would bump his pay to a fully-guaranteed $13.117 million, a number that greatly increases the likelihood of Schultz avoiding the franchise tag in 2023.

The 26-year-old will enter this year’s training camp knowing he’s again walking into a pivotal season in Dallas, if not the most pivotal of his soon-to-be five-year career. With the team’s use of a fourth-round pick (the same investment initially used on Schultz) on rookie tight end Jake Ferguson and the renewed health of a promising upstart in Sean McKeon, it’s officially an all-out competition for the role of TE1 in 2023 (if not a bit sooner).

For his part, Schultz made it clear long ago where he’d like to play football for the foreseeable future.

“Obviously, I think this is the place that I want to be,” he said in April. “I’ve got a good rapport with a lot of the guys here. I love being here. I love this organization. 

“I was grateful that I was able to at least come back here for a year. I want to work out a longterm deal and I think they do too — hopefully we can get that done. But just knowing where I’m going to be for the next year, I’m happy with.”

As it turned it, however, Schultz was very displeased and disheartened by the progress — or rather, the lack thereof — in contract talks thereafter, and having signed his tag long ago robbed him of any actual leverage from that point forward. He’d go on to silently protest the ongoing stalemate by sitting out the back end of OTAs after reporting initially, then reporting to mandatory minicamp to avoid suffering fines. 

Talks fired up again after the OTAs absence, but stalled again as the team entered its summer break, and there was no deal imminent as recently as the Tuesday morning — just days ahead the July 15 deadline.

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Schultz is coming off of a career-best season that also saw him become a top target for quarterback Dak Prescott, and he’ll need to replicate or improve upon that success (and become much more consistent as a blocker) if he’s to land the financial figures he’s hoping for in 2023, although it’s now very possible that won’t be a check written by the Cowboys. The team tagged him in March as an insurance policy after releasing former starting tight end Blake Jarwin following a hip procedure that puts his entire future in football in jeopardy, but the landscape at the position is different as camp in Oxnard approaches.

The bottom line here is clear: the Cowboys currently have leverage at the position that they lacked in March, along with no willingness to approach the top of the market in salary at tight end. 

To his credit, Schultz finished the 2021 season having reeled in 808 receiving yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 10.4 yards per catch with a 75% catch rate. Those are strong numbers, but all things considered, the Cowboys are sending the message that they’re willing to let it all play out over the next several months — having already proven they can develop a Day 2 draft pick into a starter (hint) and with another promising crop of draft talent available in April.

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