- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Dallas Cowboys would like to bring linebacker Anthony Spencer back after Spencer's career year. They believe he could make the transition from 3-4 outside linebacker to 4-3 defensive end, and that the strides he made as a pass-rusher in 2012 portend big things going forward. However, the Cowboys project to be about $18 million over he salary cap, and Spencer's not going to come cheap. Tim MacMahon thinks that if the Cowboys are going to spend big money on a significant front-seven defensive piece, they'd be better off letting Spencer walk and pursuing free-agent Bears lineman Henry Melton:
They know defensive tackle Henry Melton is a great fit for the Tampa 2 scheme, having seen him tear it up for Rod Marinelli’s Chicago defense the last two seasons. (Just pop in the tape from the Bears’ visit to JerryWorld this season). They think that Spencer will be able to make the transition from 3-4 outside linebacker to an undersized 4-3 strongside end.
They’re both Pro Bowlers primed for big paydays, meaning the cap-strapped Cowboys would have to get creative to create room for either Spencer or Melton to be on the roster next season. The 26-year-old Melton, a Grapevine native who started his career at Texas as a running back, just makes more sense than the 29-year-old Spencer. Especially considering the importance of a disruptive 3-technique tackle in Monte Kiffin's Tampa 2 scheme.
The Cowboys have a little bit of flexibility here, as we have discussed, because they believe Jason Hatcher can play either defensive tackle or defensive end in Kiffin's 4-3 alignment. So if Spencer were to sign elsewhere, they wouldn't necessarily have to replace him with an end. And for the reasons that Todd outlines, Melton would be a dream addition to the Dallas defensive line. It's hard to imagine the Bears letting him hit the market, but if he does, it certainly would make sense for the Cowboys to try to find a way to fit him into their budget. I still think they're going to end up so cap-strapped that they have to go with cheaper alternatives at some key spots, but stranger things have obviously happened.