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Monday, April 16, 2012
What's Anthony Spencer's game here?

By Dan Graziano

So, Anthony Spencer has changed agents, according to my friends at ESPNDallas.com, in an effort to secure a long-term contract. Seems Spencer isn't satisfied with the $8.8 million franchise number and would prefer the security of knowing where he's going to be playing (and for how much) in 2013 and beyond. Indications are that he'd like to stay in Dallas, just not on a one-year franchise tender.

I think this is a case of a player (and at least one agent) making an inaccurate assessment of his value. The Cowboys' alternative, when they chose to designate Spencer their franchise player, wasn't to lock him up long-term. It was to let him walk and go find a replacement on the market or in the draft. That was the original plan, in fact, but when the Cowboys looked around they discovered that there really weren't any options they believed were better than Spencer. So they franchised him, figuring that gave him another year to become a bigger factor in their pass rush and themselves another year to look for an upgrade.

Spencer is a good player. The Cowboys like what he brings to the run defense, and they like the way he fits into their defense. But he's not a great player, and they do wish he was better at getting to the quarterback. Had there been a half-dozen good pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebackers on the market, they probably would have pursued one and wished Spencer well. It's important, as he considers his value on the market and his place in the Cowboys' plans, that Spencer remembers this.

A one-year, $8.8 million contract is a pretty good deal for a 3-4 outside linebacker who gets five or six sacks a year. If Spencer's looking for a multi-year deal that pays him more, on average, than that $8.8 million, I'm not sure where he thinks he would be able to get that. In fact, there's probably not a team out there that values him as highly as the Cowboys do, since they've seen him up close, had him in their locker room and know what he brings to the table in lieu of eye-popping stats.

Spencer's 28 years old and entering his sixth year in the league. There's a chance he gets better -- that something changes and he becomes a fearsome bookend pass rusher opposite DeMarcus Ware. But it's more likely that he already is the player he's going to be, and that the Cowboys are going to be facing a similar decision on him a year from now. If I were in Spencer's shoes, I'd sign my franchise tender. Because at this point in free agency, if something were to change and the Cowboys were to revoke it and set him free on the open market, I don't see how Spencer could do any better.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Spencer's new agent can make the Cowboys see something in Spencer they haven't seen to this point. But while the point of the franchise player designation might be to buy time for the sides to work on a long-term deal, I don't think that's the way the Cowboys are using it in this case. I think they're just buying another year to see if Spencer blossoms into the player they hope he can be or if a better option presents itself. The sooner Spencer understands that, the better off he'll be.