Spencer must show '12 wasn't a fluke

IRVING, Texas -- The message comes through loud and clear for Anthony Spencer.

It's time for him to have another big year for the Dallas Cowboys. If he doesn't, the big contract he's seeking will slip out of his grasp like an RGIII juke past the newly positioned defensive end.

The 29-year-old Spencer, who played outside linebacker throughout his Cowboys career, last played the position in college. But he knows he can't use a position change as an excuse for not putting up big numbers. He has to make big plays. He needs sacks, pass breakups, quarterback pressures and tackles for loss to pile up in order to help the Cowboys and help himself.

"Yeah, that's fair," said Spencer, who has been give the franchise tag and one-year deals the past two seasons. "Everything happens for a reason. I like the franchise. [The franchise tag] was a gift and a curse at the same time."

Spencer is the youngest member of the Cowboys' projected starting defensive line. But his maximum earning power is dwindling. Will any team pay a 30-year-old rush end $30 million? What about $40 million or $50 million?

The Cowboys shouldn't extend Spencer this season. Let him play the year out. If he puts up another big campaign, fine, take care of him then. But if the Cowboys get the Spencer of old, the one who doesn't get more than six sacks in a season, it's time to move on.

Even Spencer will agree he could be playing elsewhere if he doesn't perform to expectations.

Remember this quote from Spencer in an interview ESPN NFC East blogger Dan Graziano in 2011? "You can't mail days in in this league. And I definitely found I was doing that last year."

Spencer can't take plays off and just play when he wants to. And he acknowledges that. He understands his financial future is at stake, whether it's playing for the Cowboys or another team.

Spencer isn't expected to be DeMarcus Ware. He's not being asked to do something he's not capable of doing. He's a good player. Is he elite? No. But that's OK, because he has the ability to make big plays for the Cowboys.

Last season, based on statistics from the coaches, Spencer was second on the team in sacks (11), tackles for loss (eight), quarterback pressures (26) and forced fumbles (2).

The Cowboys need more of the same from him this season.

New defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin believes Spencer's skill set can force quarterbacks into mistakes. Kiffin wants the front four to create turmoil in the backfield, which could lead to turnovers -- a key point of emphasis for new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.

"He focuses on the little things," Spencer said of Marinelli. "You win and lose in this game by doing the little things. He's making us do it. He records everything we do, so you can't say that you weren't doing it."

Spencer said he loves being challenged by the new defensive coaches. It tells him they care about him and they want him to succeed.

Can he?

The Cowboys know the NFL is a young man's game. Spencer knows that too. He's got to block out the business side of the NFL and focus on making an impact on the field.

If not, Spencer will be playing for somebody else next year.