The Dallas Cowboys drafted Anthony Spencer with the 26th pick in the first round in the 2007 NFL Draft after working out a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Cowboys would later release incumbent starter Greg Ellis, and Spencer was named starter for the beginning of his rookie campaign in the 2007 season. While his play in his first two NFL seasons was up and down, his next three would be much more solid. Spencer’s rookie contract came to a conclusion at the end of the 2011 season. While Spencer’s camp wanted to work out a long-term contract extension with the Cowboys, the team showed reluctance to dole out a large contract to Spencer at that time. Instead, the team placed the Franchise Tender on him in March, and he finally relented and signed it in April. The Cowboys bought themselves another year to evaluate him, so let’s review the stats he has put up so far in the 2012 campaign.
Week 1 @ N.Y. Giants
7 total tackles/4 assisted
Week 2 @ Seattle
7 total tackles/3 assisted/2 sacks
Week 3 vs. Tampa Bay
7 total tackles/2 assisted
Week 4 vs. Chicago
Week 6 vs. Baltimore
Week 7 vs. Carolina
6 total tackles/3 assisted/1 sack
Spencer missed the Week 4 & 6 matchups with the Bears and Panthers respectively due to a strained pectoral. His presence was definitely missed in both games. The Cowboys have long been hesitant about doling out a big contract to Spencer due to his lack of sacks as a pass rusher. In his absence, the team used Victor Butler and Alex Albright as his replacement. Butler has shown flashes as a pass rusher, but is below average against the run. Albright is decent against the run, but lacks any real pass rushing ability. His value is in his versatility as a reserve player and on special teams. The Cowboys drafted Kyle Wilber in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft as a developmental player with the hope that he could possibly one day fill Spencer’s role in the defense. However, due to injuries during training camp, his development has been slower than what was hoped for. He may still have a vital role to play for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys, but that remains to be seen.
Spencer is very good against the run as it’s his big strength that he brings to the table. He also is a decent pass rusher as well. His problem has been is that he is often compared to his counterpart on the other side, DeMarcus Ware. If Ware is going to be the measuring stick, most players will come up short, as Ware is rare talent.
Spencer is currently 28 years old, and will turn 29 in late January. Age 30 in the NFL is when players start to be considered “old”, yet it isn’t always the case with all players as there have been many that have played well into their mid-30s. Spencer’s camp will likely be looking for five or six year deal, with a sizable amount guaranteed. The Cowboys are paying Spencer $8.8 million on this year’s tag. If the team decides to tag him once more, it could be as much as $10.5 million for 2013. Keep in mind, the Cowboys will also be facing the second year of the cap penalty of $5 million next season as they try to figure things out with their free agents and free agents on the market from other teams as well.
Jerry Jones has done well in years past at extending contracts of key players and not letting them get to free agency. He has done this with Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jason Witten, and Orlando Scandrick in recent years just to name a few. The Cowboys will have the following options in regards to Spencer:
1) Lock him in to an extension during the current season
2) Let him hit free agency after the season and let the market dictate his worth. This could be dangerous as the top players at their respective positions tend to get overpaid by cash flushed teams. Mario Williams’ $100 million contract this past offseason to leave Houston for Buffalo is the most recent example. If the price gets too high, let him walk.
3) Tag him again. Although the cost would be very high, it would take away the risk of a long-term deal and give the team more time to find a cost-effective suitable replacement.
It will be interesting how the Cowboy’s brain trust navigates this situation. For the most part, Jerry Jones has done well with his signings. Like all other teams, there have been some that Jones would like have back. Regardless, this will be an interesting situation to monitor moving forward. As Spencer’s play is doing the talking on the field, it is giving his agent more bargaining strength in the negotiating room. The Cowboy’s defense has definitely been much better with him on the field than without.
Follow Craig Cortemeglia on Twitter at @ccortemegliaTLH