Follow the Money: Breakdown of Cowboys TE salaries, cap hits

Imagine a scenario where a young, bonafide starter who just made his first Pro Bowl leads a position group of other young talented players, all threats to make the team. Now imagine the entire collection doesn’t take up much salary cap space.

The tight end room in Dallas has a long list of potential contributors and might be the closest to fitting this description. The Cowboys have done the ground work, laying the platform for this to come to fruition. Now the players not named Jake Ferguson have to come through on the promise.

When churning the bottom of the roster, a player’s salary often contributes to his fate but the money aspect probably won’t be coming into play for these guys. With very little capital spent, this is where Dallas has managed to save a few dollars without sacrificing much.

Luke Schoonmaker | Age: 25 | Cap Hit: $1,424,245 – 0.6% | UDFA: 2027

Luke Schoonmaker #86 of the <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Dallas Cowboys;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Dallas Cowboys</a> (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
Luke Schoonmaker #86 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

It was apparent that the Cowboys were targeting a tight end early in the 2023 NFL Draft after losing starter Dalton Schultz in free agency to Houston. With Cowboys beat writers tossing around names such as Iowa’s Sam LaPorta and  Utah’s Dalton Kincaid, many believed Dallas would snag one of the frequently mentioned players. The team settled on Michigan’s Luke Schoonmaker who never quite got into a rhythm in his first season.

While his draft status should give him time to develop into a regular contributor, the disappointing 2023 rookie class as a whole, has added a layer of impatience from fans which hastens his development. The second-round pick has a cap hit in 2024 that is slightly above that of a minimal contract.  After a disappointing rookie season, the eldest tight end on the roster must make positive strides or be in danger of being leapfrogged by an undrafted free agent.

Jake Ferguson | Age: 24 | Cap Hit: $1,161,000 - 0.5% | UDFA: 2026

Dallas Cowboys tight end Jake Ferguson (87) Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Dallas Cowboys tight end Jake Ferguson (87) Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Landing your starting tight end in the fourth round was a major coup for Dallas. The bond he has built with quarterback Dak Prescott made the loss of former starting Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz much easier to accept. This is especially true after Ferguson caught more touchdowns and accumulated more receiving yards than his predecessor. For his efforts, Ferguson was named to his first Pro Bowl.

With a very manageable salary and some attitude to go along, Ferguson has a chance to become one of the better players at his position throughout the entire league. His three touchdown catches on wildcard weekend leave him tied with Chiefs All Pro tight end Travis Kelce in the playoffs.

Peyton Hendershot | Age: 24 | Cap Hit: $990,000 – 0.4% | UDFA: 2025

Peyton Hendershot #89 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Peyton Hendershot #89 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

There was a time when there was a debate between Peyton Hendershot and Ferguson on who would become the Cowboys starter. Many loved the possibility they could become a dual threat, adding another dimension to the Cowboys offense. After showing glimpses of playmaking ability in his rookie season, Hendershot fell from the spotlight because of nagging injuries.

His return wasn’t as impactful as anticipated but promise and a small price tag make Hendershot a potential contributor moving forward. The undrafted fan favorite bought credibility within the fan base but his production must catch up to his potential as younger, hungry options lurk right behind him.

John Stephens Jr. | Age: 24 | Cap Hit: $916,000 – 0.4% | RFA: 2026

John Stephens Jr. #49 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
John Stephens Jr. #49 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

Undrafted rookie tight end John Stephens, Jr. was making waves during training camp. The ultra-thin, yet athletic prospect out of the University of Louisianna at Lafayette, unfortunately, tore his left ACL in the final preseason game against Seattle, but not before turning whispers into conversations. His small frame left him at a disadvantage in the run game but his ability to create a mismatch in the secondary was impressive. Without taking an official count, some had Stephens making the final 53-man roster.

Bulking up and working on blocking techniques will have to take a back seat to rehab, but progress in all phases should allow Stephens to compete for a roster spot again. If this kid can recover from his injury, Dallas may have found another undrafted free-agent gem.

Princeton Fant | Age: 24 | Cap Hit: $795,000 – 0.3% | RFA: 2026

Dallas Cowboys tight end Princeton Fant (48) Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Dallas Cowboys tight end Princeton Fant (48) Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Tight end Princeton Fant may be the low man on a crowded totem pole, but that does not mean he doesn’t have a chance to stick. Fant, a converted college running back, brings a unique skill set to the team. He rushed, caught, and even passed for a touchdown while at the University of Tennessee but was also described as a versatile player and a punishing blocker.

It will take some ingenuity to get him involved properly, but if he can excel while also lining up in different spots around the offense, he could be so valuable that other positions on the team may become a roster casualty because of his versatility.

Tight End Recap:

Draft Capital Spent:

2nd round pick (2023), 4th round pick (2022)

With five players coming in at 2.2% of the salary cap consisting of two draft selections and three undrafted free agents, the Cowboys tight end room may be the best-managed group on their roster. With a combined $5.2 million cap charge for everyone, the return on investment may be the most beneficial.

No one on the roster is yet eligible for a renegotiation as none has accrued three years of service yet. A very young, competitive group combined with a quarterback who loves to look in their direction gives everyone on this list a shot at a roster spot.


Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire