As it relates to the tight end position for the Dallas Cowboys, it's Dalton Schultz currently carrying headlines -- the veteran having signed his franchise tag for 2022 before staging a short-lived absence only to . There's another twist to the situation with Schultz, however, and that's the presence of Jake Ferguson, a rookie talent the Cowboys used their fourth-round pick on in April; and one who presumably in the future.
It wouldn't exactly be unprecedented, seeing as Schultz himself was a fourth-round pick (2018) who ascended to TE1 due to the eventual exit of future Hall of Famer and Cowboys legend Jason Witten, followed by a season-ending injury to a now-released Blake Jarwin -- the latter cut loose after undergoing hip surgery that won't allow him to see the field in 2022.
It's to be determined if Schultz will land a multiyear deal by the league's deadline of July 15, and if he doesn't, it opens the door for both Ferguson and Sean McKeon to push Schultz for the throne, effectively immediately. At worst, should Schultz agree to a new deal with the Cowboys, it pits the rookie and McKeon squarely against each other for the role of TE2. Either way, there's no absence of opportunity at the position for the 23-year-old, who is champing at the bit after becoming the final signing in this year's crop of rookies in Dallas.
"I mean, just finally putting that pen to paper after being here a couple of weeks -- it kind of feels like a little weight off my shoulders," Ferguson said as OTAs concluded last week. "And [it] kind of drives me into that phase of it's time to work, even though I've kind of been doing that the last few weeks. I'm part of this organization now, like I said, pen to paper. So, it's kind of exciting.
"I think I did sign it and I looked up and I was on the second story of the facility, and I looked over the field and I was, 'Okay, it's go time.' Kind of juiced me up a little bit, and like I said, I got pretty excited then."
As the former First-Team All-Big Ten (2021) talent gets his NFL legs under him, a large part of his success will be contingent upon how much he can glean from the existing veterans in the room, from a returning Schultz to the aforementioned McKeon to Jeremy Sprinkle and also Ian Bunting.
"For sure. Definitely talking to some of those older guys ... and just trying to get more knowledge throughout the process and throughout the game," said Ferguson.
And while that intel is immensely valuable, Ferguson understands it's also -- if not more so -- about how much work he's willing to put in to become a go-to weapon for two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott, as well as proving to offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and head coach Mike McCarthy that he can be an asset and not a liability in the aspect of run-blocking, a category that could also increase the amount of time he sees on the field and not on the sideline as a spectator.
That includes teaming with undrafted rookie signing Peyton Hendershot to quiz each other regularly.
"Like I said, just trying to do as much as I can, work on my craft, and get better," said Ferguson. "It's definitely a challenge -- a lot of information, quick each day, a lot of new stuff coming in. But just trying to meet with other guys, younger guys along with fellow [rookie] tight end Peyton Hendershot, meeting with him, studying a little bit more in our off time whether we're at the hotel or here. Just trying to get as much knowledge in my brain as I can.
"We have a little system where he's got a new place. So, I'll go over to his place or he'll come over to the hotel room and we'll just start rattling off plays and I tried to pretend to be Dak one time and say the whole play, and he talked so fast that I couldn't even replicate it even close."
It's rather clear the Cowboys love the ceiling on Ferguson, and his skill set fits nicely into what they attempt to do on a weekly basis, but the learning curve at the position isn't an easy one, and the former Wisconsin standout is approaching the challenge head-on -- looking to scale the mountain one step at a time. Having made a name for himself in being a security blanket for his previous quarterbacks, he hopes to someday be the same for Prescott.
"I'm trying to get better each day."