Joe Douglas, NY Jets, Free Agent, Dalton Schultz
Joe Douglas, New York Jets, Getty Images

One player stands out as a perfect free agent target for the New York Jets

The New York Jets are projected to have around $52 million in cap room when the 2022 league year begins, per Spotrac. That total ranks eighth-highest in the NFL.

It’s a hefty chunk of change, but it’s not quite the seemingly bottomless pit of money that the Jets got to play with in recent offseasons. The Jets will have to be a bit more frugal than usual, focusing their attack on primary positions of need.

One position of weakness on New York’s roster that absolutely must be addressed in free agency is tight end.

New York has suffered through a rough season from its tight end unit. The Jets’ tight ends have produced only 464 receiving yards (30.9 per game), ranking 31st out of 32 units.

The unit’s woes go well beyond the passing game. Blocking has been an issue, too.

New York’s tight ends have allowed 13 pressures in pass protection, the most of any unit in the league. In the run game, the tight ends have not been able to generate many holes. The Jets are averaging only 0.8 yards before contact per rush attempt on carries to directed to the outside shoulder of the tight end.

Clearly, general manager Joe Douglas needs to bolster this group in the offseason.

The crop of free agent tight ends is mighty thin, featuring only two players who are clearly above-average: Dalton Schultz and Mike Gesicki.

I recently wrote about why Gesicki does not make sense as a target for the Jets. Gesicki is a talented receiver, but he does not check the boxes that the Jets need to fill at the tight end position. He is a pitiful blocker who rarely ever lines up in-line, nearly exclusively lining up either in the slot or on the outside.

New York needs an in-line tight end who can both catch and block, a la George Kittle in San Francisco. Without that type of tight end, it is difficult for offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur to accomplish the main goals of the scheme he carried over from Kittle’s 49ers: establish a threatening run game and build an explosive play-action passing game off of that threat.

With Gesicki off the board, that leaves us with only one top-tier tight end who is worth considering: Dalton Schultz, the man who should be at the top of the Jets’ free agency wishlist on the offensive side of the ball.

Dallas Cowboys v Cincinnati Bengals
CINCINNATI, OH – DECEMBER 13: Dalton Schultz #86 of the Dallas Cowboys runs the ball during the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on December 13, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Schultz is enjoying a breakout season for the Cowboys. He ranks sixth among tight ends in receiving yards (733) and receiving touchdowns (6) while placing third in receptions (69). All three marks are career-highs for the 25-year-old, who is a fourth-year pro out of Stanford.

Okay, cool, his receiving numbers are great. Gesicki has those too, boasting a 67/707/2 line.

The important question is, does Schultz fit the mold of what the Jets need from their tight end?

Yes, he does: and he fits it better than any other tight end set to hit the market.

Jet X Offseason Tool 2023 4

Unlike Gesicki, Schultz complements his top-tier receiving with excellent blocking. Schultz has a run-blocking grade of 73.0 at Pro Football Focus this season, which ranks ninth-best out of 88 qualified tight ends. That’s no outlier for Schultz, who ranked 28th out of 86 qualifiers in 2020 (65.4 grade) and ninth out of 86 qualifiers in 2019 (71.8 grade).

With much thanks to Schultz, the Cowboys have produced a solid 1.7 yards before contact on runs directed to the tight end’s outside shoulder this season, which is more than double the Jets’ mark of 0.8. For reference, the typical league average is 1.5.

Schultz can protect the quarterback, too. He has given up only three pressures over 133 career pass-blocking snaps, a tremendously low pressure rate of 2.3% (the typical league average for tight ends is around 7%).

That would be a huge boon for the Jets, whose tight ends have allowed pressure on a league-worst 9.9% of their protection snaps this year. Gesicki would be a downgrade with a career rate of 13.8%.

While Schultz is not strictly an in-line tight end, that is where he is seen most often, as he is lining up in-line on 59.1% of his snaps this season. That’s a great number to be at. He offers the versatility to line up in the slot (32.2%), outside (7.4%), or in the backfield (1.3%), but primarily, he can be trusted to handle traditional tight end assignments in the trenches.

Now, onto the sexier aspects of Schultz’s game.

Schultz offers so many weapons as a receiver. Firstly, he is a trusty contested-catch guy. He has caught 12 of 18 contested targets this season, per PFF, a 66.7% rate that ranks second-best out of the 23 tight ends with at least 10 contested targets. Only T.J. Hockenson (78.6%) sits ahead, while Gesicki ranks 14th at 46.4%.

You can count on the 6-foot-5, 244-pound Utah native to make people miss after the catch, too. He is tied with Dallas Goedert for third among tight ends with 11 missed tackles forced. Gesicki is 18th with four.

Not many tight ends have such a juicy blend of ball skills and after-the-catch skills. Schultz, Goedert, and Travis Kelce are the only tight ends with a contested-catch rate over 60% and at least 10 missed tackles forced.

In addition to the flashier stuff, Schultz keeps his fundamentals sound. He does not drop many passes. Schultz has three drops against 69 catches this season, a drop rate of 4.2% that ranks 16th-best out of 50 qualified tight ends. New York’s tight ends have six drops against 45 receptions (11.8% rate).

A perfect scheme fit at a position of dire need who offers high-level ability in numerous facets of the game, Dalton Schultz is a dream free agent target for Joe Douglas and the Jets.

Schultz’s market value is estimated at $12.2 million per year, according to Spotrac. That would currently rank seventh-highest among tight ends.

If I were the Jets, I’d sign that check for Schultz in heartbeat.

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Michael Nania is one of the best analytical New York Jets minds in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania[at] - Twitter: @Michael_Nania
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1 year ago

Shultz and Wilson lived within 10 miles of each other in high school. Not sure if they knew each other in HS as Dalton is 3 years older.

1 year ago

He makes sense, I still like Gesicki. According to what I’ve read this draft has TE talent, adding Gesicki to the “pass catcher” mix then adding two draft picks makes sense to me. I like Trey McBride, Jalen Wydermeyer, and Jeremy Ruckert. The current TE group is so bad I like the idea of a pass catching weapon like Gesicki it could be a huge help to Zach. I’m not sold on Schultz as anything more than what is he at this point. I don’t think his ceiling is any higher than this. Don’t get me wrong, what he is would be a huge improvement over what they currently have, but I think they can draft a guy like him or better.

1 year ago

Love it. I had a thought – if we can get a WR1 CB1 this TE and maintain and/or add a piece to the OL in free agency we could focus on defense in the draft. Come out of the 1st round with the top safety and LB and add an EDGE in the 2 bf round. And we may be able to trade down and still do that.

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
1 year ago

Unfortunately, Dallas will probably match that. What’s his family situation? Does he have kids that need new schools? Other than having a higher likelihood of winning a SB sometime soon, are there other reasons he might want to stay there? Plus there are 30 other teams that might want in on this bidding as well. Mr. Schulz might do very well for himself this offseason.