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