When Johnathan Hankins was traded to the Cowboys halfway through last season, he wasn’t sure what to expect.
Though he’s played just 19 games in the star, it has indeed been quite a journey for the 31-year-old. Since first suiting up for his fourth team, Hankins has proved to be an immediate upgrade for the Dallas defense, contemplated retirement, tested the waters of free agency, rediscovered his love for the game, gone on a promising championship run, seen it end prematurely in bitter disappointment, and is now ready to run it all back and do it again.
Hankins talked about it all in a 20-minute video on his YouTube channel meant to give fans deeper insight into his life both on and off the field after over a decade in the league.
Right now, Hankins said, the whole team is still reeling from its embarrassing wild-card loss to Green Bay.
“This is what we dream for, this is -for some guys- everything they wanted in their whole life. To come up short, we’re all shocked. We’re all hurt. Honestly, this year, we thought we were going to make it to the Super Bowl. And we should have,” the former Ohio State star said. “It definitely sucks.”
But he added, “We’ll be back, and that’s what I’ve got to say.”
“I’ve still got some unfinished business, still got some goals I want to achieve, still want to win that Super Bowl trophy. So is Hank done? No, Hank is just more motivated than I was in years previously. The goal of mine is to get to the Super Bowl. I would love for it to be here.”
Whether or not that last part happens for the veteran will be one of the many pieces of business facing the Dallas front office this offseason.
Hankins was traded to the Cowboys in late October 2022, a midseason move meant to beef up a run defense that was seen as the unit’s most glaring weakness.
The 2013 second-round draft pick of the Giants admitted “not necessarily knowing how it was going to go,” he said. “But I did know that they needed a guy inside that can stop the run and help out this defense.”
The Cowboys promptly gave up over 200 rushing yards in each of the first two games in which Hankins suited up.
“It was a lot of adjustment,” the 320-pounder said after spending the previous two and a half years with the Raiders.
Adjustments were made all around, and his impact was enough over another five games (including playoffs) to warrant the Cowboys re-signing Hankins to a one-year deal to return, but not until after he had fielded other offers in free agency.
“It was slow,” he said. “Obviously, I didn’t get necessarily what I wanted. But at the end of the day, I still love this game and feel like I’m playing at a high level.”
But even that was in some degree of doubt, with Hankins admitting that he contemplated hanging up his cleats prior to the 2023 season.
“To be honest, not really sure if I really wanted to continue playing. Obviously, my daughter was turning two at the time,” he explained. “Not to say I was done with football, but I just wanted to spend time with my family.”
It was a perhaps unexpected thing that rekindled the flame.
Many veteran players dread the grind of training camp, assembling in some far-flung location during the dog days of summer just to start the hard hitting and heavy lifting once again.
For Hankins, though, he says his 11th training camp- his first with the Cowboys in California- was nothing short of a revelation.
“It was amazing,” he explained. “I was able to bring my family to to Oxnard. We stayed at a resort, so in between just grinding for football, trying to build that chemistry, I was still able to get some time away from football while being in training camp to hang out with my family, take my daughter to the beach, go out to eat. Just that experience- being there, the way Jerry Jones set up everything- it was top of the line.”
But it was his Cowboys teammates who finally made it all click.
“Being with Law, being with Micah, D.A., Osa,” he recalled, “it really lit another fire under me.”
That fire burned on the field, too. With Hankins in the huddle for nearly one-third of the team’s defensive snaps, the 2023 Cowboys run defense allowed almost 300 fewer rushing yards than the previous season. The worst outing for the D-line (266 rushing yards surrendered to Buffalo) just happened to be the first game all season that Hankins missed, due to injury. And he served as a yearlong mentor for younger interior linemen like Chauncey Golston and first-round rookie Mazi Smith.
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There’s still work to be done, however, with plenty of questions surrounding the Dallas defense and its personnel, on both the field and the sideline.
Hankins hopes he’ll be there to keep chipping away at that unfinished business.
“Is this the last time you’re going to see Big Hank?” he asked. “I don’t think so. I’ll definitely be back. Speaking with the Cowboys, speaking with Mike [McCarthy] and the staff, obviously I’m still playing at a high level, and I still want to continue to play but I’m a free agent. I think I brought some good value to this team… I still got something left in the tank.”