Dallas Cowboys: Ken Hamlin

IRVING, Texas -- It's a week before the Dallas Cowboys arrive in Oxnard, California, for training camp and we already know just how big of a year it is for Bruce Carter.

It's been written and talked about countless times in the offseason.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Bruce Carter
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesCowboys linebacker Bruce Carter, a second-round pick by Dallas in 2011, is set to become a free agent after this season.
Carter is entering the final year of his rookie contract, set to become a free agent after the season. At one point he was viewed as a core player, vital to the future growth of the Cowboys' defense. After a frustrating 2013 season, he is not viewed that way anymore.

But it doesn't mean he can't be viewed that way again.

In 2011, Anthony Spencer was in a contract year and tied his career high with six sacks. He also had 31 quarterback pressures and four forced fumbles. His overall game made him a valuable player in the Cowboys' 3-4.

The Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Spencer for the 2012 season.

In another contract year, Spencer had his best season, putting up a career-high 11 sacks and earning his first Pro Bowl bid.

The Cowboys put the franchise tag on him again for 2013, guaranteeing him nearly $20 million over the two seasons in which he was tagged.

Last season, he played in only one game because of a knee injury that required microfracture surgery and might keep him out of the beginning of this season. Once again he is in a contract year, having signed a one-year deal that could be worth as much as $3.5 million.

Jason Hatcher was in a contract year last year and responded with his best season. He had 11 sacks -- after putting up just 16 in his previous seven -- and was named to the Pro Bowl. His age -- he turned 32 on Sunday -- kept the Cowboys from making a play at re-signing him, but the Washington Redskins signed him to a four-year, $27.5 million deal as a free agent.

Way back in 2007, Ken Hamlin joined the Cowboys on a one-year deal. He put up a career-high five picks and was named to the Pro Bowl. Prior to the 2008 season, he signed a six-year, $39 million deal with the Cowboys that included $15 million guaranteed. He was cut after the 2009 season.

Some contract years have not been as productive. Cornerback Mike Jenkins saw the Cowboys add Brandon Carr in free agency with a $50 million deal and draft Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall pick. Jenkins was coming off shoulder surgery, did his rehab elsewhere and started only two of 13 games in 2012. He signed with the Oakland Raiders.

Gerald Sensabaugh played on three straight one-year deals with the Cowboys from 2009-11 before cashing in at the end of the 2011 season with a five-year, $22.5 million deal that included $8 million guaranteed. He was cut after the 2012 season.

Which brings us back to Carter, the club's second-round pick in 2011.

"That's certainly a cliché thing in all of sports, that people talk about, 'He's in a contract year and he's going to take a different approach than he had up till this point,'" coach Jason Garrett said. "I don't know if I buy that with guys that I have been around. I think Bruce Carter wants to be a really good football player. I think that's independent of anything that is going on in the business side. I think getting comfortable in this scheme for the second year -- I think Sean Lee's absence will help him. It will force him to step up a little bit more. It will force Justin Durant to step up a little bit more. Sometimes you can have a player as strong as Sean Lee is -- such a great leader like Sean is -- sometimes you defer to that guy. I think it's really important for those guys to understand he's not here right now. They have to step up. They've done a better job of that throughout the OTAs and minicamp."

Linebackers coach Matt Eberflus said Carter has "ramped up," the meetings with the position coach in the offseason.

"I think he's taking steps in the right direction," Eberflus said. "And he's putting the work in. He's meeting with me as much as he can. Studying the tape, giving him clear and concise goals daily for practice and he's doing a good job of attaining those goals each and every day so when he does that he takes steps in the right direction to improve his fundamentals and his game."

Reviewing Cowboys' free agency: 2010

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
With free agency entering the final stages, we'll review the Cowboys' past five free-agency classes.

We'll continue with 2010.

Players signed: None

Starts earned: 0

Analysis: This was the first time the Cowboys didn't sign anybody in free agency since 2008. However, the Cowboys who lost six players the previous season in free agency, including two former draft picks (Kevin Burnett and Chris Canty), allowed safety Ken Hamlin and guard Cory Procter to leave. The Cowboys maintained the playing status of Keith Brooking (16 starts), Igor Olshansky (14 games) and Gerald Sensabaugh (15 games) from the previous free agency class. What is interesting about this class was the draft. The Cowboys snagged future starter Sean Lee in the second round and a quality backup defensive lineman in Sean Lissemore in the seventh round. The Cowboys also used their supplemental draft pick on defensive end Josh Brent. Dallas finished this season at 6-10 and coach Wade Phillips was fired after a 45-7 loss at Green Bay. Jason Garrett took over and the Cowboys had a strong finish, 5-3. It's the only time Garrett ended a season above .500 mark.

Grade: Incomplete

Cowboys chat recap: Why the DB disconnect?

February, 13, 2014
Feb 13
IRVING, Texas -- On Wednesday I had my first chat of the offseason, and it’s something we hope to feature weekly. In case you missed it, click here to take a look at what was asked and what was answered.

HappyGilmour (yes, I know that’s not his real name, but he’s asking good questions in our chats) said the Dallas Cowboys haven’t had a good secondary since they had Deion Sanders, and wonders if it is that hard to evaluate cornerbacks and safeties.

Here’s what I said:

You can't say they haven't tried. They drafted Roy Williams in the first round and paid him a big contract. They gave Ken Hamlin a big deal after he made the Pro Bowl. Neither one of those contracts worked out. They drafted Terence Newman in the first round as well as Mike Jenkins and traded up to get Mo Claiborne. They signed Anthony Henry and Brandon Carr to big-time contracts. They've tried but the results have not always worked out ... or still are in the process of working out. It should not be that hard to evaluate corners and safeties, but switching schemes and having corners with certain attributes playing a different style might not have been the smartest decision.

Some of the other topics:

Current, former Cowboys mix at practice

August, 22, 2013
ARLINGTON, Texas -- One of the reasons why Jason Garrett likes to have a training camp practice at AT&T Stadium is for the current players to mix and mingle with the former players and learn the history of the Dallas Cowboys franchise.

Cliff Harris spoke at the dinner following the two-hour practice and was one of six members of the Ring of Honor in attendance, along with Roger Staubach, Lee Roy Jordan, Rayfield Wright, Mel Renfro and Charles Haley.

Players representing every era of Cowboys’ football were on hand, as well, including Butch Johnson, Jay Novacek, Billy Joe DuPree, John Fitzgerald and Ken Hamlin.

“I want to get my helmet and go through some of these exercises with some of these guys,” said Wright, a Hall-of-Fame offensive tackle who played for the Cowboys from 1967-80.

Wright was looking forward to talking to some of the offensive lineman at the dinner.

“There’s just little techniques that you could communicate with some of the young guys,” Wright said. “We have the talent, skills and ability. These guys have great talent. They’re a lot bigger than we were when I played the game. But they have great talent and if I had the opportunity to sit down and just talk to some of these guys on a personal, one-on-one level, it would be fantastic for me.”

Safety track record not good for Cowboys

March, 5, 2013
IRVING, Texas – After the Cowboys released Gerald Sensabaugh on Monday, I wrote that the move was risky, considering the Cowboys do not have a known commodity currently under contract.

Randy Galloway and Matt Mosley discuss the Cowboys putting the franchise tag on Anthony Spencer and releasing Gerald Sensabaugh.

Listen Listen
After checking out the comments section, I soon realized Sensabaugh was the worst safety in NFL history and was responsible for the current sequester. Maybe I’m stubborn, but I believe Sensabaugh is solid. Great? No. Good enough? Sure.

Another reason why the move is risky is that the Cowboys have not been able to find a long-term safety since Darren Woodson.

And everybody believes the Cowboys struggle to identify quality offensive linemen?

Roy Williams had a good run for a few years but then tailed off badly. Ken Hamlin had one good season with the Cowboys, signed a big contract and then didn’t seem to like playing much again. Keith Davis was a special teamer turned starter out of necessity. At the prices the Cowboys paid Sensabaugh, I think they did OK with him for four years. Abram Elam lasted one season as a starter, which is better than Brodney Pool, who didn’t last a week in training camp.

(UPDATE: The original version forgot Lynn Scott, an undrafted player in 2001 that the Cowboys had hopes for early.)

Since 2001, the Cowboys have drafted nine safeties and the best has been Williams, and he was the eighth overall pick in 2002. People will remind you that Ed Reed is a Hall of Famer and went later to Baltimore. Tony Dixon (second, 2001) never panned out. Justin Beriault (sixth, 2006) was hurt and never played.

Pat Watkins (fifth, 2006) was tall and an OK special teamer. Alan Ball (seventh, 2007) was drafted as a corner, became a forgettable starter at safety and moved back to cornerback. Mike Hamlin and DeAngelo Smith were fifth-rounders in the forgettable 2009 draft and didn’t make an impact. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (fourth, 2010) was hurt when drafted, came from a small school and made switch from corner to safety – and never made an impact.

Barry Church and Danny McCray were undrafted players in 2010 that have made an impact. But Church, as close to an incumbent the Cowboys have at the position, is coming off an Achilles tear, and McCray showed he’s a special-teamer with the more work he got on defense last season.

Matt Johnson was a fourth-round pick last year and never played a snap because of recurring hamstring injuries. Judgment should be withheld until he actually gets on the field, but let’s just say history is not on his side.

The Cowboys needed to look at the safety spot before Sensabaugh’s release and now they must really look at it.

But do you trust they will find the right safety even in a draft that is considered rich at the position?

Dez Bryant should have stayed home

November, 3, 2012
ATLANTA -- In theory, Dez Bryant's late-night trip to a Dallas nightclub shouldn't be a big deal.

But it is.

It's not because Bryant did something wrong at the club -- he didn't -- but he was out late, with permission from adviser David Wells and team officials, to have a little fun before his birthday.

This presents a problem because of Bryant's off-field behavior. He still has a case pending for domestic violence involving his mother. He didn't practice all week with a sore hip and fell down during a Friday morning walkthrough. Bryant is sore as a result of his crashing to the ground after almost making a spectacular catch in last week's loss to the New York Giants.

Bryant is the most talented wide receiver on the Cowboys, but the most troubled. Friday night should have been a night at home. Yes, his birthday is Nov. 4 and this was a little gift for him to celebrate, but he needed to stay home.

It's all about perception. Ask Tony Romo.

During the bye week of the 2007 playoffs, Romo and two teammates ventured down to Mexico to relax. Some fans and media members said it was the wrong thing to do. The Cowboys lost to the Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs, and some fans have never forgiven Romo for his trip.

The trip didn't cost the Cowboys the game. If the Cowboys had won, however, maybe things would be different regarding that trip. But his team lost, and many felt the quarterback needed to set the tone for the franchise. Stay home and relax.

A few years later, former Cowboys Ken Hamlin, Keith Davis and Tank Johnson took a trip to South Texas for a Halloween party 48 hours before a game at New York.

The trio got home in time, but that weekend the Cowboys lost.

They should have stayed home.

I'm not against players going out; that's their right. You can't ask 20-something-year-old players to stay home every weekend. But Bryant should have stayed home Friday night.

If Bryant struggles Sunday night at Atlanta, he opens himself up to being criticized for hanging out late when he has a bad hip.

Bryant is a good player. He plays hard and cares deeply about his team.

But going out late Friday night wasn't the right thing to do.

Barry Church ready to start

August, 6, 2012

OXNARD, Calif. -- With the Dallas Cowboys releasing safety Brodney Pool on Monday morning, it opened the door for Barry Church to become the starter.

Signing Pool was designed to create competition at the position and during offseason workouts. Church was a reserve. But after Pool failed his conditioning test to start training camp, Church received the majority of the first-team snaps.

"Just for them to release him kinda shows me they have a little confidence in me and a little confidence in my game," Church said Monday. "So I'm just going to go out there and keep trying to produce at a high level and hopefully I'll be a starter Sept. 5."

Church was surprised the team signed Pool because he figured younger players would compete for the job. But Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was familiar with Pool, having coached him in Cleveland. The Cowboys used veteran safeties, Abram Elam and Ken Hamlin, to pair with Gerald Sensabaugh in the past.

In 2010, the Cowboys moved Alan Ball to the safety spot but it didn't work out well.

"It was a little surprising to me at the beginning," Church said. "But I just knew they wanted competition at that safety (position) to bring out the best in both of us and that’s what it did. I felt it brought out the best in my game and here I am now taking the first-team reps and hopefully I can continue at that."

To improve his game, Church worked with tight end Jason Witten and Sensabaugh. Church wanted to improve his pass coverage skills. He was good as an in-the-box safety, but with more teams passing, Church needed to work on covering tight ends and running backs.

Church worked on getting his hands placed the right way on receivers and recognizing routes.

"It's been great learning from Elam and Gerald Sensabaugh in the offseason," Church said. "That’s who I worked with to fine-tune my talents in the offseason, especially in my man coverage skills. (Sensabaugh) helped me out a lot with that. Working on tight end releases and working with Jason Witten one-on-one in the offseason helped me fine-tune my craft and I felt like my tackling was down. In the box, things were pretty good, just the deep part of the field, working with Gerald in the offseason helped me take my game to another level."

Barry Church hopes to stop revolving door

July, 31, 2012
OXNARD, Calif. -- For the fourth straight year, Gerald Sensabaugh will have a different partner as one of the Cowboys’ two starting safeties.

In 2009, Sensabaugh was paired with Ken Hamlin. In 2010, it was Alan Ball. Last year it was Abram Elam.

And now it’s … Barry Church.

“I’m definitely trying to stick around longer than one year,” Church said. “We’ll see what happens, though.”

Church is not a lock to be the starter for the Sept. 5 season opener against the New York Giants but with Brodney Pool unable to finish the conditioning test and Matt Johnson working back from a hamstring injury, Church is getting the first look.

Church has started one game in his two seasons but spent most of last season playing in substitution packages, including spending some time at inside linebacker.

“I feel like my versatility was a big key for me getting in the packages I was in,” Church said.

Now he spends most of his time at safety, and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s scheme is not a true free/strong safety combination.

“It’s more of right and left,” Church said. “They want us to learn both, but the strong safety is more likely to go down and be the thumper in the running game and the free safety will be back deep. But with motions happening and reloads, you’ve got to be able to play both positions.”

Time for Mike Jenkins to return

May, 10, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- Mike Jenkins has done nothing wrong this offseason.

It is well within his right to do his rehab work from major shoulder surgery mostly in Florida. The Cowboys’ offseason conditioning program is voluntary even if there is a wink-wink involved.

But it doesn’t mean Jenkins is in the right either.

Is Jenkins, who was the Cowboys’ best cornerback last season -- and that is not meant as faint praise -- upset that he does not have a new contract? Is he upset the team signed Brandon Carr to a $50 million deal and Orlando Scandrick to a $27 million deal before he could cash in? Is he upset the Cowboys traded up to get Morris Claiborne in the first round in the draft?

Maybe it’s yes to all three, but staying home is not the right answer.

Let’s offer up Ken Hamlin and Marion Barber as lessons why.

In 2008, Hamlin did not take part in the offseason program, organized team activities and mini-camp after the team put the franchise tag on him. That same offseason the Cowboys tended Barber as a restricted free agent with the highest compensation possible -- a first and third rounder -- and he missed about two months of the offseason program.

Eventually Hamlin and Barber got paid. The Cowboys signed Hamlin to a six-year, $39 million deal in July 2008. Barber signed a seven-year, $45 million deal in May.

But neither guy was the same player.

Hamlin was cut after the 2009 season. Barber lost the tread on his tire and was cut after the 2010 season. He retired this offseason after one year in Chicago.

Maybe this is just anecdotal evidence about the importance of the offseason program, but you’re hearing a lot of guys talk now about how much better this spring has been than last spring when there was a lockout in effect.

If it’s all about money, then, hey, those guys got their money. Is it a coincidence that Barber’s agent then is Jenkins’ agent now, Drew Rosenhaus?

Trading Jenkins is/was not easy. Why would a team trade for a guy who is coming off major shoulder surgery? Why would a team trade for a guy with one year left on his deal? Why would the Cowboys want to give up on a young cornerback even if they have stockpiled the spot this offseason?

On Wednesday owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he has visions of a long-term plan for Jenkins. Maybe he does or maybe he’s just saying he does. The Cowboys will have significant money tied up in Carr, Scandrick and Claiborne. Can they really afford a fourth cornerback?

Yes, if he plays as well as Jenkins played last year and in 2009.

Jenkins' best attribute as a corner is his willingness to compete at the line of scrimmage and for the ball in the air. Yes, I know people now are talking about two failed tackles he had as a rookie and 2010, but if he didn’t answer any toughness questions for you last year by playing with that shoulder injury then shame on you.

Jenkins can show the Cowboys they have to keep him. He can show other teams he’s healthy and worth the money in 2013.

He can’t show them that from Florida.

Could Anthony Spencer return this week?

April, 22, 2012
IRVING, Texas – The second week of the Cowboys’ offseason conditioning program begins Monday and outside linebacker Anthony Spencer is still weighing whether he will attend.

Spencer and his new agent, Jordan Woy, met with the team late last week and “went over several proposals.” The Cowboys are scheduled to pay Spencer $8.8 million as the franchise player in 2012, and, according to a source, have not made any multi-year offers.

Woy said Spencer would not take part in the conditioning program until he signs the tender and a decision would be made early this week.

Until Spencer signs the franchise tender, the Cowboys have the right to rescind the tag. It is possible they could trade Spencer before or during the upcoming draft.

In 2008, safety Ken Hamlin did not take part in the offseason program in addition to skipping the organized team activities and minicamp as the Cowboys’ franchise player before signing a six-year extension. Hamlin was released after the 2009 season.

Nothing to show for 2008 shopping spree

March, 13, 2012
Four years later, the Cowboys have nothing to show for all the cash they threw around during 2008.

Jerry Jones went on a re-signing spree that offseason, making major commitments to receiver Terrell Owens, running back Marion Barber, left tackle Flozell Adams, safety Ken Hamlin and cornerback Terence Newman. He gave receiver Roy Williams a rich extension after trading for him later that season.

The Cowboys cut ties with the last of those guys Tuesday, releasing Newman in a move that was about as surprising as opponents picking on him while the Cowboys lost four of their last five games.

Half of the Cowboys who cashed huge signing bonus checks from the Cowboys in ’08 weren’t even in the league last season. Barber and Williams were role players for the Bears, and Newman struggled as the Cowboys’ starting left cornerback.

T.O. was the first of the group to go from Valley Ranch. He got the pink slip – er, white tablecloth – after one controversy-packed, chemistry-killing season of his four-year, $34 million extension that included a $12.9 million signing bonus.

The Cowboys cut Adams and Hamlin two seasons into their six-year deals. Adams got $15 million guaranteed on a $43 million contract. Hamlin got a $9 million signing bonus on a $39 million contract. The Cowboys got an oft-penalized tackle and a non-playmaking safety.

Barber and Williams played three nonproductive seasons for the Cowboys after getting their rich contracts. Barber’s seven-year, $45 million deal included $16 million guaranteed. About half of Williams’ six-year, $54 million deal, which he signed before playing a down for the Cowboys, was guaranteed.

Newman played four seasons of his six-year, $50.2 million deal, which included $22.5 million guaranteed. He struggled much of the last two seasons, but Newman was still the best buy of the Cowboys’ ’08 shopping spree.

Miles Austin extension in cross hairs

March, 12, 2012

IRVING, Texas – As ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported, the Cowboys will be docked $10 million in salary cap space that can be spread out over the next two years for the structures of deals in the 2010 uncapped season.

According to sources in Schefter’s report, “the Cowboys and Redskins took immediate cap hits during the 2010 season that normally would have been spread out over the length of the contracts, giving them an advantage that other NFL owners found unfair.”

The Cowboys signed wide receiver Miles Austin to a six-year extension worth $54 million and paid him a $17 million base salary, which worked within the rules of an uncapped season. In a capped season, players are normally given large signing bonuses that are prorated over the course of the contract to come up with a salary-cap charge.

As part of the original deal, Austin was to receive a 2011 base salary of $8.5 million. The Cowboys created salary-cap room prior to last season by lowering Austin’s base to $685,000 and turning $7.855 million into signing bonus, which is a common practice by teams across the league.

The Cowboys did not sign a high-priced free agent of note in 2010 and the only veterans that were released prior to that season were left tackle Flozell Adams and safety Ken Hamlin.

Breaking down Anthony Spencer's tag

March, 5, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- Now that the Cowboys have placed the franchise tag on outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, let’s look at some other aspects of the tag.

** The $8.8 million is guaranteed once Spencer signs the tender. He could choose to hold off on signing, which is what Ken Hamlin did in 2008, and skip the offseason program, organized team activities and minicamps. But he also runs the risk of the Cowboys rescinding the offer at any point, especially if they use a high draft pick in April. By then teams would not have as much salary-cap room as they would entering free agency.

** The Cowboys can still trade Spencer to another team. If a team wants to sign Spencer to an offer sheet, then they would be required to fork over two first-round draft picks. Remember Joey Galloway’s deal with the Cowboys? But the Cowboys could also swing a trade for different (lower) compensation. In 2006, Atlanta traded for New York Jets’ franchise player, John Abraham, in a three-way deal with Denver that cost the Falcons their first-round pick. In 2001, Aeneas Williams was traded from Arizona to St. Louis for second- and fourth-round picks.

** The Cowboys and Spencer’s agent, Roosevelt Barnes, have until July 16 to reach a deal on a long-term contract, if they want to come to such an arrangement. After July 16, Spencer has to play the season on the $8.8 million tag and the sides can’t sign a new deal until after the season is over.

** For those wondering how this affects the Cowboys’ ability to sign players in free agency, don’t be too worried. They can still do whatever it is they want by moving some money around. The Cowboys were $12.6 million under the cap before the Spencer tag. The Cowboys can create about $8.6 million in space by the already agreed upon reworkings of the deals of Doug Free and Orlando Scandrick. By cutting Terence Newman, they could save either $4 million or $6 million. They can create more room by reworking DeMarcus Ware’s contract, too.
INDIANAPOLIS -- While most of the focus of the NFL scouting combine is on the draft, the Cowboys are hoping to meet with the agent for linebacker Anthony Spencer over the next few days.

Executive vice president Stephen Jones said a meeting is not scheduled with Roosevelt Barnes, "but there's a chance we'll probably get with him."

Jones said a decision on whether to apply the franchise tag on Spencer, which would cost roughly $8.8 million, has not been made. The Cowboys have until March 5 to tender Spencer. Free agency begins March 13.

The Cowboys have used the franchise tag twice, on Flozell Adams in 2002 and Ken Hamlin in 2008.

"It's obviously usually a pretty decent [salary] number and it's not a cap-friendly deal, so that's probably the hardest thing," Jones said of the team's philosophy on the tag. "But at the same time it allows you some protection."

Spencer, a first-round pick in 2007, has never had more than six sacks in a season.

Jones said the Cowboys do not have an in-house candidate to replace Spencer "right now that we'd feel comfortable plugging in."

Spencer has 21.5 sacks for his career and has started 47 of the last 48 games since taking over for Ellis in 2009.

"I think he's performed solidly," Jones said. "I think he's a solid player. You keep thinking the production is going to come in terms of what you're expectations are. You think going into the season that this is the year he'll get 10-12 sacks. But at the same time you don't measure a player by sacks only. He's solid against the run. He gets pressure. He does all of that."

Should the Cowboys tag Spencer, Jones said it would not preclude the team from selecting a linebacker with their first-round pick in April.

"Right now we don't have Spencer signed long-term," Jones said, "and you can never have enough pass rushers."

Cowboys won't hurry use of franchise tag

February, 20, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- Starting today teams can begin using the franchise tag, but do not expect the Cowboys to be in a hurry to place it on outside linebacker Anthony Spencer.

The deadline to use a franchise tag is March 5, eight days before free agency starts. In the meantime the Cowboys can talk to Spencer’s agents regarding an extension that would chew up less than the $8.8 million he would receive in 2012 as the franchise player or wait to see if potential free agent linebackers are tagged by their teams.

If the Cowboys use the designation, they would likely wait until the final moments, according to sources.

The Cowboys have used the franchise tag twice; on left tackle Flozell Adams in 2002 and safety Ken Hamlin in 2008.

There are similarities in the decision to tag Adams in 2002 and the one the Cowboys face this offseason with Spencer. At the time the Cowboys did not have a suitable replacement for Adams but were unsure whether he was worth signing to a long-term extension. He played the season out under the tag and Bill Parcells made Adams one of his priorities when he took over after that season. He went on to make the Pro Bowl five times from 2003-08.

Spencer, a first-round pick in 2007, has been solid but has never had more than six sacks in a season, however, the Cowboys do not have an in-house replacement ready. The free-agent market for outside linebackers is not considered strong.

If the Cowboys choose to tag Spencer, they would lose $8.8 million in cap space immediately but they could always rescind the tender and regain the space provided he did not sign. They could also make a trade, which would add that money back to the cap.