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Dallas Cowboys’ 2020 NFL free-agent signings: Dak-Cooper connection stays in place

NFL free agency is off and running, and we’re keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2020 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from Bill Barnwell. The new league year begins March 18 at 4 p.m. ET, which means free-agent signings can be made official after that. The first round of the 2020 NFL draft begins April 23.

Here’s a breakdown of every 2020 NFL free-agent signing by the Dallas Cowboys, and how each will impact the upcoming season:


The Cowboys have brought the former Pro Bowl defensive tackle, formerly of the Panthers, into the fold.

What it means: The Cowboys need bodies on the defensive line spot and McCoy can get to the quarterback from the interior. They lost Robert Quinn and Maliek Collins in free agency earlier in the day but McCoy can play different roles in the scheme new coordinator Mike Nolan will implement. He started every game last season for the Carolina Panthers and had five sacks. He has had at least five sacks in each of the last eight seasons.

What’s the risk: While he has missed just five games in the last five seasons, he turned 32 last month, so age is a factor to consider. He has primarily played defensive tackle, so McCoy will not replace Quinn’s work off the edge. But he can fill part of a role Michael Bennett had last year with his position flexibility. The Cowboys will look at pass-rushers opposite DeMarcus Lawrence and could conceivably see Randy Gregory return from a suspension.


The Cowboys prevented their top receiver from leaving via free agency with a five-year, $100 million deal, league sources told ESPN Insider Adam Schefter.

What it means: The Cowboys have accomplished one of their bigger goals by keeping Cooper for the next five seasons. When they gave up their first-round pick to Oakland in 2018, they hoped he and Dak Prescott would become a prolific connection. In 25 games, they have connected on 132 passes for 1,914 yards and 14 touchdowns. Prescott and Cooper figure to grow even more with more time on task together once they get accustomed to the changes new coach Mike McCarthy is bringing.

What’s the risk: The Cowboys might have gone higher in terms of average per year than they had initially intended. Only Julio Jones makes more among receivers at $22 million. Mike Thomas was the second-highest paid at $19.2 million. Cooper’s numbers fell off down the stretch — 26 catches, 341 yards, one touchdown in seven games — but the hope is that was due more to injuries that bothered him throughout the season than a true downward trend.

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Stephen A. Smith advises Dak Prescott to sit out the 2020 season after being franchise-tagged by the Cowboys.

The Cowboys placed the exclusive franchise tag on their quarterback on Monday.

Projected franchise tag salary: $26.9 million

Seasons: 4

Career highlights: A fourth-round pick in 2016, Prescott was named the NFL Rookie of the Year after helping the Cowboys to an NFC-best 13-3 record with 23 touchdown passes and four interceptions. He has not missed a start since taking over for Tony Romo, posting a 40-24 record. He has been named to the Pro Bowl twice. Prescott had career highs in passing yards (4,902) and touchdown passes (30) in 2019.

Why he was tagged: Teams don’t let franchise quarterbacks hit the market. The Cowboys hope this is a placeholder for the ultimate goal of both sides — a long-term deal. They have until July 15 to work out the contract, but the sides have been in negotiations this week, perhaps a sign they want to work it out sooner rather than later.

What he brings: Quite simply, Prescott is the team’s leader. Players on both sides of the ball follow him. He has improved as a passer each season, making great strides in 2019, when he missed Romo’s record for passing yards in a season by 2 yards.


The linebacker is returning for an 11th season, agreeing to a one-year contract.

What it means: The Cowboys value Lee — not only his leadership but his ability to make plays, even after 10 seasons. With the losses of Byron Jones, Robert Quinn, Maliek Collins and Jeff Heath to free agency, Lee can provide stability for the defense. He was credited with 109 tackles last season after his playing time increased following Leighton Vander Esch‘s neck injury. While he might not be an every-down player, he will be able to play in a rotation with Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith in the Cowboys’ sub package defenses.

What’s the risk: Lee turns 34 in July and he has been troubled by injuries, although he did not miss a game last season. It will be on the coaches to manage Lee’s work during the week, but he felt like they found the right program last year to keep him on the field when it matters most. The Cowboys have invested in Vander Esch and Smith, but Lee is not a player who will make waves and will do his best to help the young linebackers continue to develop.


The Cowboys have reached an agreement with Jarwin on a four-year, $22 million contract.

What it means: It does not close the door on Jason Witten‘s return, but it means Jarwin will be looked at as a starter going forward even if the veteran Witten returns for a 17th season. In playing fewer than 45% of the snaps, Jarwin has shown he can be a down-field threat as a tight end and his blocking has improved but still needs work. The Cowboys are betting Jarwin will continue to develop and he will be something of a bargain in the later years of the contract.

What’s the risk: The more he plays, the more he gets exposed. Jarwin has not been a full-time player. His blocking has been passable, but he has not been asked to block at the point of attack as much as he will now with the expanded playing time that will come with this contract. He has shown he can be an effective change-of-pace at tight end behind Witten, but things change when expectations rise. If Witten does not return, the Cowboys could still look in the draft for a tight end or a low-cost veteran.


The Cowboys reached an agreement on a two-year contract with the veteran safety.

What it means: The Cowboys have protected themselves by keeping Thompson. He made four starts at safety last season, playing in 15 games. The coaches credited him with 38 tackles to go along with 1.5 sacks, and two tackles for loss. He finished second on the team in special teams’ tackles. He is more of a role player, so this does not take the Cowboys out of looking for help in free agency at a higher price or early in the draft.

What’s the risk: There really isn’t any. The Cowboys know what Thompson can do. He does not count a lot against the cap. If he doesn’t make the roster, then they have found an upgrade at backup safety.


The Cowboys keep their long-time long snapper in the fold by signing Ladouceur to a 1-year deal.

What it means: The Cowboys will not have to worry about the snaps to their punter or kicker. Ladouceur has not had a poor snap in his 15-year career. He turned 39 last week but has not missed a game in his career. Only Jason Witten (255) has played more games in team history than Ladouceur (237). He is as steady as they come and will be a help to new special teams coordinator John Fassel.

What’s the risk: None. He might be the oldest player on the roster, but he keeps himself in great shape and knows how to prepare himself for a season. It would have been far more risky to go into the season without a snapper as accomplished as Ladouceur.


The Cowboys are bringing back the veteran cornerback on a three-year deal, a source told ESPN.

What it means: Having lost Byron Jones to Miami and not willing to play at the very top end of the free-agent market, the Cowboys kept Brown, who has 33 starts, four interceptions and three sacks in his four seasons. He can play in the slot as well as outside. With Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis entering the final years of their contracts, Brown gives the Cowboys some security but this will not prevent them from looking at cornerback early in the draft. Brown, a sixth-round pick in 2016, has been dependable and a willing tackler.

What’s the risk: The Cowboys evidently went with the player they know over the player they don’t in keeping Brown instead of going after other free agents. Until last season, he had been a durable player, missing just one game. The triceps that caused him to miss seven games last year will heal, but there’s always a risk that could be a recurring issue. He’s not the big-time playmaker many folks want the Cowboys to sign in the secondary, but he can fill multiple roles.


The Cowboys signed Canady to a one-year deal.

What it means: He played in 13 games last season between the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens with an interception and five pass deflections. He is long and can also help on special teams. In some ways this might be a replacement for C.J. Goodwin, who was one of the Cowboys’ best special teamers and saw limited action in sub packages. With Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Anthony Brown and Canady, if the Cowboys look for more corner help, it could come through the draft..

What’s the risk: Very little. Maybe even none since it is a one-year deal. This is a bet on a younger player with some experience who seemed to play well in limited snaps last season. Defenses can never have enough corners and Canady comes at a cost-effective price.


The Cowboys brought back Forbath, who steadied the position in 2019.

What it means: Forbath made all 10 field-goal attempts and all 10 point-after tries in his three games with the Cowboys after replacing Brett Maher. He solidified the position that needed help — perhaps much earlier, given Maher’s struggles. Given the number of one-score games there are in the NFL, it is a must to have an accurate kicker. Forbath gained some confidence off his finish to 2019 and the Cowboys have confidence in him.

What’s the risk: There isn’t any, really. He will have competition. The Cowboys also have Tristan Vizcaino on the roster as well and could add another kicker possibly. Special-teams coach John Fassel had a strong kicker in Greg Zuerlein with the Rams for years. Forbath does not have that type of leg, but Forbath has made 86.8% of his kicks.


The Cowboys brought back Looney, a valued reserve, on a one-year deal.

What it means: Looney provides tremendous depth on the interior. He could start at center for a number of teams. He played well filling in for Travis Frederick in 2018. He is strong, smart and moves fairly well. He is also a bonus in the locker room in terms of keeping things loose. He joined the Cowboys in 2016 and has become one of the most-liked teammates and a solid contributor when called upon.

What’s the risk: Looney turns 30 in August, so there is some mileage there, but he has not played a ton. It’s important to have experienced backup offensive linemen. Even though he is a better center, with the loss of Xavier Su’a-Filo and the return from a torn ACL of Connor Williams, he could get more of a look at guard than in the past. But there is little risk in keeping Looney. It’s the type of signing that doesn’t garner a lot of attention but means more when injuries occur up front.

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