Should Cowboys keep Anthony Spencer?
Why cut what Cowboys developed?
The Dallas Cowboys are not in a position to let their best defensive player from the 2012 season just walk away and think they will be better in 2013.
There are only so many dollars available for so many players in this salary-cap world, but the Cowboys must do what they can to keep Anthony Spencer.
The Cowboys' move to the 4-3 comes at a strange time when they would appear to have one of the best quartets at linebacker in a 3-4.
A healthy DeMarcus Ware is still one of the three best defensive players in football. A healthy Sean Lee and Bruce Carter give the Cowboys an inside linebacker duo that could be second only to San Francisco's Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Spencer is among the best strong-side outside linebackers in the league.
Maybe he's not the traditional defensive end, but Spencer can still fit in a 4-3. At 250 pounds, he would be smaller than the strong-side ends new coordinator Monte Kiffin used in Tampa Bay. Perhaps he could play strong-side linebacker in nonpassing situations and move to having his hand on the ground when the Cowboys use their sub packages.
Spencer's 2012 season was not the product of a contract year. If he had such motivation in 2012, he would have done more in 2011. When the Cowboys used the franchise tag on Spencer last season and committed $8.8 million his way, many people shook their heads only to see what the coaches have said all along: Do not judge Spencer solely by sacks.
Yes, he had a career-high 11 in 2012, but that was a product of rushing more (although not a ton more). He is tremendous at the point of attack. He can stick with tight ends. He can affect the game in a lot of ways.
The Cowboys finally saw their patience in Spencer get rewarded. It would make no sense to let him walk on to another team and lose out on what they developed.
I admit there will be a cutoff point somewhere down the line where Spencer could get too expensive, and you have to keep in mind the salary cap is not expected to rise that much in the future. But the Cowboys can make sure he does not hit the open market by getting a deal done before March 12.
Will it be difficult to get a deal done? Absolutely.
Will they be better without Spencer in 2013? Absolutely not.
Price tag is just too high
Anthony Spencer had the best season of his career in 2012. He had a career-high 11 sacks and led the Dallas Cowboys with 55 solo tackles. When DeMarcus Ware was nicked up with shoulder and elbow injuries, Spencer picked up the slack with the pass rush.
Spencer had a terrific year for the Cowboys ... and that's what scares me about giving him a long-term contract. It was one year.
Where was all this in previous seasons? A few years ago, Spencer admitted during an interview with ESPN NFC East blogger Dan Graziano that he didn't try as hard.
"You can't mail days in this league," Spencer told Graziano. "And I definitely found I was doing that last year."
A few days later, Spencer said it was taken out of context.
If the Cowboys again put the franchise tag on Spencer, it's going to cost $10.8 million. We're not sure whether Spencer would be upset with this. No NFL player wants to be franchised, especially if it's in consecutive seasons, as players want long-term financial security. But Spencer, who would have picked up a combined $18 million over two franchise seasons, would enter the free-agent market in 2014 without having to worry about being franchised again.
The Cowboys could lose him after paying him that money. So they should let him test the market instead.
The Cowboys are nearly $26 million over the salary cap. Front-office officials will tell you it's not a big deal, as restructuring contracts and cutting players will allow them to get under the cap by March 12.
But when the Cowboys do get under the cap, spending $10.8 million on Spencer shouldn't be one of the things they do. Giving him a long-term contract -- averaging $8 million to $10 million a season -- shouldn't be an option, either.
The Cowboys need to get younger at certain positions -- defensive line, for one -- and drafting an end or tackle is, to me, more important than paying Spencer, who's willing to move from outside linebacker to end and should make the transition to a 4-3 without any problems.
But which Spencer will the Cowboys get? The one who had 11 sacks? The 2010 version? Or will we get the above-average player from other seasons?
I know he has been asked to play more in coverage, and he is a better run-stopper than Ware. At this stage of the offseason, given the holes the Cowboys have, they also need a wide receiver, offensive linemen, a running back and maybe even a backup quarterback.
Anthony Spencer's price tag is too high. It's not his fault. He had an excellent 2012 season. But for the Cowboys, it's too much.