Commentary

Tagging Anthony Spencer is right call

Cowboys should enjoy Pro Bowler's production and not worry about long-term deal

Updated: March 5, 2013, 6:45 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Jerry Jones made perfect use of the franchise tag when the Dallas Cowboys placed it on Anthony Spencer.

Now comes the difficult part: Jerry needs to tell Spencer's agent, Jordan Woy, that his client isn't getting a long-term deal from the Cowboys.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesAnthony Spencer had a career year last season with 95 tackles and 11 sacks.

Spencer, the first player the Cowboys have ever used the franchise tag on twice, will earn $10.6 million from the Cowboys this season, giving him a two-year total of $19.4 million.

Not bad.

Spencer was the Cowboys' best defensive player last season, and the franchise tag will give the Cowboys one more year of his services while he's in his athletic prime. Then the Cowboys can turn the position over to Tyrone Crawford, a rookie who earned a spot in the defensive line rotation last season, or someone who's not even on the roster right now.

Perfect.

See, there's zero reason to give Spencer a long-term deal. As long as Jerry understands that and sticks to it, it's a win for Spencer and the Cowboys.

Give Spencer a long-term deal and it becomes a win for Spencer and a lose for the Cowboys.

First, Spencer is playing a new position. The Cowboys are moving him from linebacker to defensive end, a position he played in college.

But there's a reason why the former first-round pick didn't get drafted to play defensive end. At 261 pounds, he was undersized in college and, according to the roster on dallascowboys.com, he played last season at 250 pounds. He'll be undersized playing defensive end in the NFL, where he'll regularly be going against 300-pound tackles.

The Cowboys hope Spencer can compensate with speed and quickness. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has made it clear he values speed over size.

Just so you know, Chicago used 275-pound Israel Idonije as the strong-side defensive end, although Minnesota's Brian Robison played the position at 259 pounds. Of course, Indianapolis' Robert Mathis successfully played the position for years at 235 pounds.

Bottom line: We have no idea how Spencer will perform at this position. Maybe he'll dominate like he did this season. Or, perhaps, he'll be just a guy. Until the Cowboys see him play for 16 games we won't know the answer.

Second, the Tampa 2 defensive scheme the Cowboys are using this season revolves around three key positions: defensive tackle, weak side linebacker and safety. As you see, strong side defensive end isn't on the list. In this scheme, a defensive end simply isn't worth a long-term deal that averages anywhere close to $10 million a year.

Then there's the matter of Spencer's age. Spencer will turn 30 in January, which means if he signs a five- or six-year deal at the end of the season, he's going to be a senior citizen by NFL standards when his deal ends.

That means either the Cowboys won't be getting anywhere close to his money's worth at the end of the deal, or they'll get rid of him and they'll have a chunk of his contract still counting against their salary cap even though he's no longer on the roster. Neither is an acceptable option.

It's imperative Jerry learns from his previous mistakes. Too many times Jerry has lavished big-dollar contracts on players who haven't had a lengthy track record of success with the Cowboys.

Marion Barber and Miles Austin come to mind. Tony Romo worked out, but Jerry handed him a five-year, $65 million contract after just 18 starts.

Spencer, the 26th player taken in the 2007 draft, had a solid yet unspectacular career in his first five seasons with the Cowboys.

Last season, he was a beast. He established career-highs in tackles (95) and sacks (11) while making a bevy of game-changing plays. And he was at his best in the fourth quarter.

Still, it's fair to ask whether Spencer is a one-year wonder capable of duplicating his career year or if he simply had a career year at the perfect time.

But in this defensive scheme, there's been no tangible evidence a high-priced defensive end is a necessity.

The Cowboys should enjoy Spencer this season, then let him leave.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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