Commentary

Anthony Spencer defies labels

Cowboys LB makes most of franchise designation while teammate skips OTAs

Updated: May 24, 2012, 12:57 AM ET
By Todd Archer | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Mike Jenkins and Anthony Spencer are showing different ways of handling the business side of the NFL.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Spencer
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireAnthony Spencer may not get as many sacks as DeMarcus Ware, but he had more tackles and fumble recoveries than his fellow LB last season.
Upset that he is entering the final year of his contract without any assurances of an extension and that they traded up for Morris Claiborne in last month's draft, Jenkins is skipping the organized team activities and, according to sources, hoping for a trade.

Spencer's offseason started with the Cowboys tagging him as their franchise player, which effectively took him off the free-agent market. Initially upset, he signed the $8.84 million tender in April and has shown up for work every day since.

"I want a long-term deal," Spencer said after Wednesday's practice, "but I can't be disappointed with being franchised."

The scenarios are not exactly the same, but Spencer could be anywhere but Valley Ranch in the middle of May if he chose. New Orleans' Drew Brees, Chicago's Matt Forte and Baltimore's Ray Rice are among a handful of franchise-tag designees looking for a long-term deal and not working out with teammates.

Spencer is doing what Wes Welker did in New England: sign the tender, get to work and hope a big offer comes.

When he first received the tag, Spencer contemplated sitting out the offseason, using his absence as the only leverage he really had. But he switched agents to Dallas-based Jordan Woy and decided it was time to go to work.

"It's more than I've been making in the previous years," Spencer said of the $8.84 million price tag. "I mean, as long as I'm moving forward, right?"

Now, the Cowboys have to figure out just how to move forward with Spencer.

He has never had more than six sacks in a season. That's amplified by the fact that he plays opposite DeMarcus Ware, who has never had fewer than eight in a season in his career. The Cowboys' decision to tag Spencer was viewed as curious by some in large part because of Spencer's lack of sack numbers.

Spencer I want a long-term deal, but I can't be disappointed with being franchised.

-- Cowboys LB Anthony Spencer
But linebackers coach Matt Eberflus has a different formula to measure Spencer's worth.

"He was fourth in the league in quarterback hits and sacks and pressures, so that's pretty good," Eberflus said. "So he moves the quarterback off the spot. That's very helpful for us affecting the quarterback."

Spencer was second to Ware on the team in quarterback pressures (31 to 40) but he had more tackles, tackles for loss and fumble recoveries. They were tied with three pass breakups each. But Spencer knows outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense are not measured by their ability to set the edge on a running play.

Spencer has 21.5 sacks for his career. Ware has 20- and 19.5-sack seasons to his credit.

"It's more like scoring touchdowns," Spencer said. "You don't get points for first downs. You get points for scoring touchdowns."

Spencer is not sure how many sacks he came thisclose to getting in 2011, just that it was "too many." Owner and general manager Jerry Jones has hinted at schematic changes to Rob Ryan's defense that will allow Spencer to rush the passer more out of base formations.

Eberflus talked about putting Spencer in position to be "the free hitter in overload rushes. We're excited about using him," the coach said.

The Cowboys hope the acquisitions of Brandon Carr (in free agency) and Morris Claiborne (in the draft) help Spencer -- and the rest of the pass rush, for that matter. If the theory of the New York Giants' defense is to attack the quarterback with as many pass rushers as possible to help the secondary, the Cowboys are looking at the secondary to cover for that split second longer to help the pass rush.

"You really don't know until you're on the field and going through a game," Spencer said, "but I definitely believe having those cornerbacks on the edge is going to help out."

Which is why he also wants Jenkins at Valley Ranch working out. Jenkins, who would not be able to practice right now anyway because of offseason shoulder surgery, would make the cornerback group among the most talented in the league.

He has long arms that top-press cornerbacks need. He has good makeup speed. He can knock balls away. He proved last year that he will play hurt.

"It's a business," Spencer said. "If anyone understands that I understand that. But at the same time you want a guy like that to be around the team. It's his decision. I support him. He's my teammate."

It's just a decision Spencer couldn't make for himself.

Todd Archer

ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter

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