Dallas Cowboys use franchise tag on Dalton Schultz after TE's career-best season

FRISCO, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday placed the franchise tag on tight end Dalton Schultz.

The franchise tender for tight ends is $10.931 million, according to a memo obtained by ESPN. The Cowboys are already projected to be around $20 million over the 2022 salary cap. Once the tag is officially in place, they would have to clear more space.

But the Cowboys did not want to be in a position to lose Schultz, who had career highs in receptions (78), yards (808) and touchdowns (8) last season.

With the franchise tag, a team could still sign Schultz as a free agent but would have to give up two first-round picks or come up with another package to entice the Cowboys to agree to a trade. The Cowboys and Schultz have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal or else he would have to play the season on the franchise tag.

"Dalton Schultz has played a tremendous amount of football for us the last two years and has been extremely productive and he's a part of everything," coach Mike McCarthy said last week from the NFL combine.

A fourth-round pick in 2018, Schultz had 13 catches in his first two seasons, but in 2020 and '21, he had 141 catches for 1,423 yards and 12 touchdowns. In 2021, he joined Jason Witten as the second tight end in team history with at least 70 catches and 800 yards in a season as he became one of quarterback Dak Prescott's trusted targets.

Schultz is the seventh player the Cowboys have ever used the franchise tag on. In 2020, Prescott played under the $31.4 million tag and was tagged again in 2021, but the Cowboys signed him to a four-year, $160 million deal last March. In 2018 and '19, the Cowboys used the tag on defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, but they reached a long-term deal worth $105 million in 2019.

The other players to be tagged by the Cowboys are: Dez Bryant (2015), Anthony Spencer (2012, 2013), Ken Hamlin (2008) and Flozell Adams (2002). The only players to play under the tag have been Prescott, Lawrence, Spencer and Adams.

The Cowboys have started their process in getting under the cap. The team on Tuesday restructured the contracts of Prescott and offensive lineman Zack Martin, creating more than $22 million in cap room.

Wide receiver Amari Cooper is likely to be released, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter, which would open up another $16 million with his $20 million base salary becoming fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year.

Other players who could be restructured, asked to take a pay cut or will be released include Lawrence, La'el Collins, Blake Jarwin, and Tyron Smith.

With Schultz under the tag, the Cowboys have 20 players set to hit the open market, including wide receivers Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, defensive ends Randy Gregory and Dorance Armstrong as well as safeties Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker and Damontae Kazee.