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

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Cowboys accomplished early free-agency goals, looking ahead to draft (1:03)

Todd Archer says Dallas achieved its main two goals in free agency by keeping Amari Cooper and Dak Prescott, but the team is still looking to pick up a pass-rusher in the draft. (1:03)

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:


Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, safety

Clinton-Dix, who started all 16 games for the Bears last season, has reached a one-year deal with the Cowboys.

What it means: The Cowboys need bodies at safety. Prior to re-signing Darian Thompson, they had just two safeties with any experience under contract. He re-unites with Mike McCarthy, his coach in Green Bay. The 2014 first-round pick had 78 tackles and two interceptions last season in Chicago. He doesn't always take the best angles. He will miss some tackles. He's not perfect. The Cowboys lost Jeff Heath to the Raiders, so they sought out veteran help and got it.

What's the risk: Economically, there's not much risk given the one-year deal. Clinton-Dix brings plenty of experience, but he should not be viewed as a sure-fire starter. The Cowboys use free agency to cover holes so they can properly prepare their draft board without any glaring needs. Clinton-Dix fills that need but his presence will not prevent the Cowboys from going after a safety as early as the first round.


Gerald McCoy, defensive tackle

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.


Amari Cooper, receiver

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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1:14

Cowboys shifting focus after re-signing Cooper

Field Yates says it is good that the Cowboys re-signed Amari Cooper so they can now focus on Dak Prescott and other free agents.

Dak Prescott, quarterback

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.


Dontari Poe, defensive tackle

The run-stuffing veteran agreed to a one-year contract, adding a big body to Dallas' defensive front.

What it means: For years fans have wanted to see the Cowboys add size to their interior defensive line even though that did not fit with what Rod Marinelli wanted and the Cowboys' run defense ranked outside the top 11 just once with him as the coordinator. But Mike Nolan wants bigger pieces up front and Poe, who weighs 346 pounds, fits that bill. Poe will help eat up blockers to help linebackers make plays as Nolan changes the philosophy up front.

What's the risk: Poe turns 30 in August and he is coming off November quadriceps surgery, so there is a risk that injuries could begin to be an issue. That it is a one-year deal, however, mitigates some of the risk. He had four sacks in 11 games. He will not be asked to get to the passer much, but he can push the pocket to help others get to the quarterback.


Sean Lee, linebacker

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.


Blake Jarwin, tight end

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.


Darian Thompson, safety

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.


L.P. Ladouceur, long snapper

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.


Anthony Brown, cornerback

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.


Maurice Canady, cornerback

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.


Kai Forbath, kicker

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.


Joe Looney, center

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.


Joe Thomas, linebacker

Thomas agreed to re-sign with the Cowboys on a one-year deal.

What it means: The Cowboys will have their top four linebackers from 2019 back in 2020 with Thomas, Sean Lee, Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith with a new coach in Scott McCurley. Thomas is valuable because he can play all three linebacker spots and he can be a core special teamer. They have to be careful to have him play too much, but he spent four seasons with Mike McCarthy in Green Bay before he came to the Cowboys, so they'll know him best.

What's the risk: Like almost all of the agreements so far: none. There's little guaranteed money. Thomas is a hard worker and the type of veteran coaches like since he can play anywhere. His return will not stop the Cowboys from looking to the draft for linebacker help, either.


Justin March, linebacker

March agreed to a one-year deal to remain with the Cowboys for a fourth season.

What it means: The Cowboys believe new special-teams coach John Fassel can do more with some of the core special-teamers that put together one of the worst seasons in the NFL in 2019. The coaches last year did not give March a chance to play at linebacker last season when injuries hit the group, calling in Malcolm Smith instead.

What's the risk: None. But there will come a point when the Cowboys will need to do more to help their special teams than just bring back the guys they had last year. March works hard and will not cause any issues, but he is not a lock to make it to the opening-day roster.


C.J. Goodwin, CB

Goodwin agreed to a one-year deal to return to the Cowboys.

What it means: The Cowboys kept their best special teamer from last year by agreeing to a one-year deal with Goodwin. He can be an effective gunner on the punt team. He's one of the fastest players on the team. He is a depth piece in the secondary, good for sub-packages only. Currently he would be behind Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Anthony Brown and Maurice Canady on the cornerback depth chart, but he will have a chance to impress new special teams coach John Fassel.

What's the risk: None. He is on a minimum-salary benefit contract that includes a $137,500 signing bonus. It's not clear if the Cowboys guaranteed any of his $910,000 base salary at the moment. Like the addition of Canady on a one-year deal, this signing will not take the Cowboys out of the running for a cornerback early in the draft, especially with Awuzie and Lewis entering the final years of their contract.


Blake Bell, TE

The Cowboys reached a one-year deal with the former Chiefs tight end.

What it means: The Cowboys needed a blocking tight end after losing Jason Witten to the Las Vegas Raiders. Blake Jarwin is more of a pass-catching tight end, so Bell can step in when the Cowboys want to go to two-tight end formations. They also have 2018 draft pick Dalton Schultz, who is considered a solid blocker. Bell started seven games and played in 38 percent of the snaps in a high-scoring Chiefs offense.

What's the risk: Very little, if any. Bell fits a specific role, and considering it’s a one-year deal, it will not break the bank. He brings competition to the position, but it’s clear Jarwin will be the No. 1 tight end. Mike McCarthy wants to run the ball with Ezekiel Elliott so having multiple tight ends is a must even if he did not use two-tight end personnel that much in Green Bay over the years.


Greg Zuerlein, place-kicker

Zuerlein has agreed to a three-year, $7.5 million contract with the Cowboys.

What it means: The Cowboys have effectively taken care of the kicking competition by guaranteeing Zuerlein $2.25 million on his deal. He has a big leg with 33 makes from 50 yards or longer, including 5-of-7 last season, but he was inconsistent from 40-49 yards, making just 5-of-11 attempts. He will have eight games in a mostly controlled environment at AT&T Stadium, which should help, and he should help the kick return game as well. He had a career-high 77.1% on touchbacks in 2019 for the Rams. The Cowboys signed Kai Forbath, who made all 10 of his attempts with the team a year ago, earlier in free agency to a one-year deal.

What's the risk: The Cowboys want to improve their special teams from 2019 and Zuerlein, who turns 33 in December, has a powerful leg, but is he wearing down a little? He made 24 of 33 attempts last year and his 72.7% was the lowest of his career. The last time the Cowboys made such a big move at kicker in unrestricted free agency came in 2006 when they signed Mike Vanderjagt to a three-year, $5.4 million deal and he didn't last the first season. With so many one-score games each week, having a reliable kicker is a must. The Cowboys figured that out too late a year ago when Brett Maher missed 10 tries before being replaced by Forbath.