Although the Dallas Cowboys drafted Dalton Schultz in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft last weekend, the team says Jason Witten’s impending retirement, which was made official on Thursday, didn't alter their draft decisions.
The Cowboys are now facing an unknown at the position for the first time since 2003. And there is no heir apparent.
Schultz joins a group that includes Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin and Rico Gathers.
Swaim is the most experienced of the group. His nine catches for 94 yards represents the career production total of the entire foursome. Swaim, a 2015 seventh-round pick out of Texas, is mainly a blocking tight end. He has eight career starts.
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Schultz was more blocker than receiver at Stanford with just 55 career catches. But he is very capable in the receiving game. Stanford coach David Shaw called him the most complete tight end he has had in years.
Jarwin is the holdover who excites the front office the most. Owner Jerry Jones and vice president Stephen Jones sang his praises throughout the draft as why they were not worried about the position. Jarwin, an undrafted free agent in 2017, earned a promotion from the practice squad to the 53-man roster in the middle of last season.
"We really like Jarwin; he did a lot of good things for us," Stephen Jones said. "We moved him up and all he did was keep doing good things for us. He was a receiver first and transformed into a tight end. He's a long, big-bodied guy and just showed a lot of promise."
Gathers is the enigma of the group. The former Baylor basketball standout joined the Cowboys as a sixth-round pick in 2016. Gathers hasn’t played a regular-season snap, but has flashed potential in training camp and preseason games that excited Cowboys fans about his future development. But he remains a work in progress after missing all of last season because of a concussion he suffered toward the end of training camp.
The Cowboys have tempered expectations because of what they seemingly perceive as Gathers' questionable commitment to the game.
"Of course Rico, it's no given there, but he does some special things when given opportunities," Stephen Jones said. "We're growing with him, and we just have to see how that works out."
Said scouting chief Will McClay, "He has all the traits you look for. It’s up to him. He's got his opportunity now. He has to get in and put it all forward.”