Cowboys FA who will be back: Johnathan Hankins, NT
There’s no telling what the Cowboys defense will look like in 2024 or who will be running it. One thing is clear: no one on the current roster is built like Johnathan Hankins. The 6-foot-2, 340-pound roadblock fits odd and even fronted schemes. He can two-gap as well as anyone and can even push the pocket when called upon.
The Cowboys are devoid of girthy players like Hankins. They drafted a 1-tech plugger in the first-round last season, but they proceeded to cut his weight and turn him into a 3-tech for some inexplicable reason. If the Cowboys move on from Hankins, they don’t have anyone waiting in the wings who can even remotely pick up the slack.
At 31-years-old, Hankins isn’t someone who’s on the cusp of breaking out or even someone who's at the peak of his profession. But in Dallas he’s a scarce commodity who can be signed for a reasonable amount. That make him a favorite to re-sign with the Cowboys.
Given the undersized nature of the Cowboys’ second-level defenders, Hankins has added importance in Dallas. He keeps 300-pound linemen off the Cowboys’ 225-pound LBs and safeties which adds tremendous value outside the stat sheet.
The Cowboys could change their minds with Mazi Smith and ask him to bulk up again and assume the role he played in college. But given what he showed as a rookie, it’s unwise to bank on him sliding into a starting role anytime soon. Even if the Cowboys turn to the draft and look for a NT there, interior defensive linemen are notoriously slow in their development and even an early pick isn’t likely to help much in Year 1.