Right move with Spencer?
Move makes cents
The easy thing to do is just scream at the top of your lungs and say, "What in the world is Jerry Jones doing? Anthony Spencer, a franchise player? Please."
But there is actually some sense in what the Cowboys did Monday in naming Spencer the franchise player and agreeing to pay him at least $8.8 million in 2012 if you want to calmly look at the current roster, the free-agency landscape and the uncertainty going into the draft.
I understand the reasons why people will be opposed to it. I've typed "Spencer has never had more than six sacks in a season" so often over the last month that I think it is now part of his name. But there is more to playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 than just getting sacks, especially when you play opposite DeMarcus Ware.
But sacks are how we determine success in a lot of ways. Not forced fumbles, where Spencer is near the top of his position. Not tackles, where Spencer is near the top of his position. Not pressures, where Spencer is near the top of his position. I get it. And LaMarr Woodley's success in Pittsburgh doesn't help Spencer's case either given that Woodley was drafted after Spencer in 2007. Woodley has 48 career sacks. Spencer has 21.5.
San Francisco signed Ahmad Brooks to a $44 million extension last week. He has had more than six sacks in a season just once. In talking to several scouts during the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, I believe had Spencer hit the open market he would have received similar offers from teams seeking a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Brooks will make $8.25 million in 2012. Spencer will make $8.8 million.
What seems to be lost in all the consternation about how Jones could do such a thing is that there is no given the tag will remain on Spencer so long as he doesn't sign it. I noted on the blog the other day two trades involving franchise-tag players in the past in John Abraham and Aeneas Williams. It could happen.
And it's quite possible the Cowboys draft a linebacker early in April's draft and rescind the tender to Spencer.
The Cowboys bought themselves some time by doing this. They can go through the draft process without propping up outside linebackers that are not worthy of spots because they have a need. They can feel out other teams and see if they can secure a draft pick.
Some people believe this kills the Cowboys' free agency plans. It doesn't. They can still move enough money around to have roughly $20 million in cap space available to sign a starting guard, a starting cornerback, an inside linebacker, a backup quarterback and wide receiver Laurent Robinson.
In 2002, the Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Flozell Adams, who to that point of his career had been considered a disappointment. Starting in 2003, he made the Pro Bowl in five of the next six seasons.
I'm not saying that's Spencer's future, but I'd rather overpay for one year than sign him to a long-term deal in Brooks' neighborhood.
Jerry jumped the gun
Outside linebacker Anthony Spencer is a good player but not an elite one. Elite players get about $10 million to $12 million a season.
With the Cowboys using the franchise tag on him Monday afternoon, Spencer will receive $8.8 million in salary in 2012, but the Cowboys didn't need to pay it.
The Cowboys were in a delicate situation with Spencer. They tried to work out a long-term deal, but once that failed they were afraid to let him test the open market. There is nobody on the current roster ready to become the starter in his place.
Yes, Victor Butler provided defensive coordinator Rob Ryan with some nice plays, but he's not an every-down outside linebacker.
The Cowboys should have let Spencer test the free-agent market and then targeted an outside linebacker in the draft if they lost him.
This has happened before.
When the Cowboys selected Spencer in the first round of the 2007 draft, it was with the hope he would replace veteran Greg Ellis. Spencer eventually did, but since taking over for Ellis, he doesn't have as many impact plays as he should.
Just looking at 2011, Spencer had no sacks the last four weeks of the season. Against the NFC East, where he gets familiar with opposing tackles and tight ends who cover him twice a year, he picked up just one sack.
In response to why he had just six sacks in 2011, Cowboys officials will say Spencer drops back in coverage a lot and is strong against the run. Spencer had just two pass breakups in 2011 and zero interceptions.
Spencer is not the playmaking outside linebacker the Cowboys need opposite DeMarcus Ware. Spencer doesn't need to rack up huge sack totals, which Ware does on a consistent basis (as evident by his 19.5 last year), but we like to see more plays on the ball. He did lead the team with four forced fumbles and 31 quarterback pressures, but did you really notice him?
It could be his demeanor. Spencer is a soft-spoken kind of guy. A good guy.
He's not an elite player. He's a good player the Cowboys can replace in the draft.
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