Cowboys 2023 free agency tracker: DT Johnathan Hankins, DE Dante Fowler Jr. back in the fold

Defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. is back with the Dallas Cowboys on a one-year contract. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

FRISCO, Texas -- NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2023 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year began March 15 at 4 p.m. ET. The first round of the 2023 NFL draft begins April 27 on ESPN.

The Dallas Cowboys consider themselves to be a draft-and-develop team and use free agency to fill holes, not make major splashes.

The last big signing they made in free agency was Brandon Carr (five years, $50 million) in 2012. Instead, they like to make under-the-radar signings that lead to players outperforming their contracts, like Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker, Dante Fowler Jr. and Bryan Anger.

The Cowboys have plenty of needs to fill -- wide receiver, linebacker, defensive line, offensive line, tight end, kicker and backup quarterback -- but mostly want to retain their own players, with 18 players set to hit the open market after using the franchise tag on running back Tony Pollard.

If they are going to spend big money, they want to do it on their own players, like WR CeeDee Lamb, CB Trevon Diggs and potentially C Tyler Biadasz, 2020 draft picks now eligible for second contracts.

Here's a breakdown of every 2023 NFL free agent signing by the Cowboys, and how each will impact the upcoming season:

Johnathan Hankins, defensive tackle

Hankins is back with the Cowboys on a one-year, $1.3 million deal with $1.1 million guaranteed.

What it means: The Cowboys keep a valuable piece of Dan Quinn's defense, just like they did with Donovan Wilson and Leighton Vander Esch. Hankins performed well after being picked up in a trade from the Las Vegas Raiders. He was credited with 12 tackles, a tackle for loss and two quarterback pressures despite missing time with a pectoral strain. He gives the Cowboys size on the interior of their defensive line, which should help Vander Esch and the linebackers run more freely.

What's the risk: Financially, there's not much risk. The Cowboys guaranteed a base salary of $940,000 (plus a signing bonus of $152,500). He is entering his 11th year and about to turn 31, but Mike McCarthy does a good job of making sure his veterans are rested and not put at more risk during practice as the season goes along. This does not take the Cowboys out of selecting a defensive tackle in the draft.

Dante Fowler Jr., defensive end

The Cowboys are bringing Fowler back on a one-year deal ($3 million base, $4.25 million max, $1 million bonus).

What it means: The Cowboys bring back their top pass-rushers from 2022 with Micah Parsons, Dorance Armstrong, DeMarcus Lawrence, Fowler and Sam Williams. Last season, the Cowboys had 54 sacks, third in the NFL. Fowler's six sacks came in just 343 snaps. He wanted to stay with Quinn, the defensive coordinator. Quinn recruited him to Florida and coached him at Atlanta. He knows what Quinn wants and Quinn knows how to get the most out of Fowler.

What's the risk: Not much of one. The Cowboys are on the hook for a $1 million bonus on a deal that is almost exactly the same as last year's deal. In fact, if the Cowboys add a pass-rusher early in the draft and see the second-year jump they hope to see in Williams, then Fowler could become a trade piece in training camp or by the trade deadline because teams value pass-rushers so much.

Trent Sieg, long-snapper

Sieg joins Dallas on a one-year, $1.232 million contract.

What it means: The Cowboys had a vacancy when Jake McQuaide opted to sign with Detroit. McQuaide suffered a triceps injury last year that curtailed his season, but he was healthy by the end of the campaign. Still, the Cowboys got younger with Sieg, who had spent five years with the Raiders. He turns 28 in May and should pair nicely with punter Bryan Anger and whoever wins the kicking job. The Cowboys have not had a long-snapper this young since L.P. Ladouceur in 2009. Ladouceur served as the Cowboys' snapper from 2005 to 2020 and was followed by McQuaide, 35, and Matt Overton, 37.

What's the risk: Financially? None really, although the Cowboys did guarantee $250,000 of his base salary. They have a competent snapper with plenty of experience. That's always a good thing, especially as they still need to find an answer at kicker with only Tristain Vizcaino signed at the moment.

Cooper Rush, quarterback

Rush agreed to terms on a two-year deal ($5 million base, $6 million max, $1.25 million bonus) to return to the Cowboys.

What it means: The Cowboys know what they have in their backup quarterback. That's an important commodity since Dak Prescott has missed at least one game in each of the last three seasons because of injury. Rush has a 5-1 record, eight touchdown passes and four interceptions for his career. Without his steady play last year, the Cowboys don't make the playoffs after Prescott suffered a broken thumb. Teammates believe they have a chance when he has to play if something happens to Prescott again.

What's the risk: None really. Prescott has a confidante in the quarterback room in an offseason that has seen him lose Kellen Moore, Doug Nussmeier and Ezekiel Elliott. Financially, the deal falls in line with backup quarterback ($2.5 million a year) numbers. It doesn't preclude the Cowboys from taking a quarterback on Day 2 of the draft if they so choose, but they will return the same three from the last two years in Prescott, Rush and Will Grier.

Ronald Jones, running back

The Cowboys and Jones have agreed to a one-year, $1.232 million contract.

What it means: When the Cowboys released Ezekiel Elliott, they knew they needed running back help with Tony Pollard on the franchise tag. Now is Jones the only replacement for Elliott? Maybe not. Remember, coach Mike McCarthy said he wants to run the ball more as the playcaller. Jones, who went to McKinney (Texas) North High School, was a second-round pick and has a Super Bowl ring. He had a career-high 978 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020 for the Buccaneers. While he has a 31-catch season to his credit, he has not done much work out of the backfield as a pass-catcher in recent years.

What's the risk: Little, since he is low cost and played just two games last season for the Chiefs, so low tread on the tires too. The days of a lead back carrying it 300 times a year for the Cowboys are over. With Pollard, Jones and either Malik Davis, Rico Dowdle or a draft pick, the Cowboys will go with a group of running backs to make it work in 2023. The hope is Jones can prove he is more the 2020 back than the one who saw little action in his time in Kansas City.

Chuma Edoga, offensive line

The Cowboys have signed Edoga to a one-year, $1.232 million contract.

What it means: Edoga is the first free agent the Cowboys have added so far, as their biggest moves have come via trades for Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks. The Cowboys had some interest in him last summer after Tyron Smith suffered a hamstring injury that required surgery. He played in only two games for the Falcons after spending his first three years with the Jets. He can play tackle and guard, and the Cowboys always like to have position flexibility in their linemen. At guard, the Cowboys lost Connor McGovern to Buffalo at the start of free agency, so he could contend for that spot, depending on how the tackle situation plays out with Tyron Smith, Tyler Smith and Terence Steele.

What's the risk: None really. It's a one-year deal, so there aren't really any salary cap issues. He has some injury concerns, but this signing will not take them out of going after offensive linemen -- plural -- in the draft.

C.J. Goodwin, cornerback

Goodwin will stay with the Cowboys on a one-year, $1.317 million contract.

What it means: After losing their leading special teams tackler last year in Luke Gifford to the Tennessee Titans, the Cowboys couldn't lose Goodwin. He is one of the best gunners in football. He finished second to Gifford on the team in special teams stops. He is a good leader, willing to show the younger players the tricks of the trade on special teams. Having a core special teamer like Goodwin back for another year is a good thing for coordinator John Fassel.

What's the risk: None really. This isn't a huge financial commitment. They keep a good locker room guy, good special teamer. Goodwin can help at cornerback in a pinch if necessary, but he has been special teams only the past few years.

Leighton Vander Esch, linebacker

Vander Esch has agreed to return to Dallas on a two-year deal worth up to $10 million ($8 million base, $2.5 million bonus).

What it means: The Cowboys keep a key piece of their defense. His absence was felt when he missed the final three regular-season games due to injury. He gets everybody in the correct spots, but he is also productive. He had 100 tackles, second on the team. In the two playoff games, he led the Cowboys with 21 tackles. Vander Esch has played in 30 of the past 34 games after injuries curtailed his 2019 and 2020 seasons. Last year, he showed a similar form to his rookie year when he was named to the Pro Bowl. He brings toughness and leadership to a relatively young defense. Without Vander Esch, the Cowboys would have had a big void.

What's the risk: Injuries are always the concern with Vander Esch. He missed the final three games with a trapezius injury but was given a clean bill of health by the medical staff. After splitting reps for a spell in 2021 with Jaylon Smith, Vander Esch has shown the more he plays, the better he plays. If he can avoid injury, the Cowboys have a major player on their defense.

Donovan Wilson, safety

The Cowboys reached an agreement with Wilson to bring him back on a three-year deal worth up to $24 million ($21 million base and a $6.6 million bonus).

What it means: The Cowboys keep a key part of their defense. Wilson led the Cowboys in tackles last season, and he and safety Jayron Kearse were the only two defenders to fill every major defensive statistical category in 2022. Coordinator Quinn's base defense effectively uses three safeties, so with Wilson back, Quinn will have Kearse, Malik Hooker and Wilson back for another year to form one of the better safety trios in the NFL.

What's the risk: Wilson is a big hitter, and that can lead to some injury concerns, but the length of the deal is conducive to his style. Without Wilson, the Cowboys would have had the need to add another safety in the draft or free agency or hope Markquese Bell, an undrafted rookie last year, was ready to make a big jump. By paying a guy they know, the Cowboys take some of the risk out of a signing like this.