Around this time every year NFL teams make decisions regarding contract extensions. Whether the team is a playoff contender or already looking toward the next year, the front office is busy getting their house in order. The more questions answered in 2012 the less need to be answered in 2013. Signing them now instead of waiting for free agency can be mutually beneficial to both team and player. It provides security to both team and player before the free agent market opens. It can spread the cap impact into current season’s free space also providing immediate money to the player. And it fills what would otherwise be holes allowing scouting and personnel to focus on other unavoidable needs
Whatever the specific reason, the Cowboys have been fairly active over the years in signing players to extensions midseason. Some have been good moves while some have not. Earlier in the year Sean Lissemore (contract 5yrs/$7.17M) and Barry Church (contract 5yrs/12.94M) were signed to very reasonable contract extensions. Looking at upcoming Cowboy free agents who can we expect to see back with the Cowboys?
This is perhaps the biggest question mark entering the offseason. Spencer is currently playing under the Franchise Tag of $8.8M. If franchised again in 2013 that number would balloon to over $10M. It is highly unlikely the Cowboys could do that again so it’s most likely going to come down to a long-term contract or nothing at all.
In the beginning of the 2012 season, most people would tell you it would be longshot for Spencer to sign a long-term deal in Dallas. He would play the 2012 season and then move on. But in recent weeks that opinion seems to be changing. Spencer has been playing the best football of his career as of late and is making this decision much more difficult than first anticipated.
There is no doubt the team would love to have Spencer back. He’s fundamentally flawless, a fantastic team player, and now a decent pass-rush threat. If that doesn’t warrant a new contract then nothing does. The issue is the Cowboy’s cap situation. The question is would you rather have Spencer back or upgrade the offensive line? Probably can’t do both. If Spencer is resigned do not expect any other big-impact player to be added. This will not be resolved until after the season.
Victor Butler is also playing the best football of his career. He was always an excellent pass rusher – second only to DeMarcus Ware. His issue is fulfilling the less glorious assignments like stopping the run, containing a scrambling QB, playing the screen, and covering the flat. Those assignments are the very things that Spencer excels in. In Butler’s limited playing time this season Butler has shown noticeable improvement. He’s still not as disciplined as Anthony Spencer and will never reach the level of Spencer regarding fundamentals but he’s proving to be a viable option.
Victor Butler will cost a fraction of what it will take to keep Spencer and he would allow the Cowboys to spend big money elsewhere. While resigning Spencer would only allow one upgrade elsewhere, Butler could allow two upgrades. Is it worth it to downgrade at the OLB in order to upgrade at say, right tackle and defensive line?
Naw. Get outta here.
Mike Jenkins finest season was his second NFL season. In 2009 Mike Jenkins played an aggressive brand of football Cowboy fans had not seen since Deion Sanders. Instead of playing the receiver like Terence Newman always had, Jenkins played the ball. This style led to 5 interceptions and many critical break-ups during that 2009 season. Since then Jenkins has been a rollercoaster of effort, aggressiveness, and injuries. Jenkins will be looking for an opportunity to start and the Dallas Cowboys just don’t have an opening.
This will be Jenkins last season on the Cowboys. The 2008 draft that brought Jenkins and Felix Jones can now be seen as a true failure. In a draft where both first round picks are not good enough to be resigned, you can’t call it any differently. Jenkins will get paid, but it will be too much and with someone else.
Tree is a perfect example of one player blocking the progress of other players. Dwyane Harris and Cole Beasley continue to excite coaches and fans yet for some reason Ogletree keeps getting more snaps. Tree has had far too many chances to excel but has never taken advantage of them. He will be gone with no offer made from the Cowboys.
Phillips has been a decent #2 TE on the Cowboy’s offense but chances of returning are slim. James Hanna was drafted in the later rounds of the 2012 NFL draft. He is a bit of a project but has very high potential. As the current season progresses, Hanna has received more and more snaps at the expense of John Phillips. Not only that but he has done well in those opportunities. This is most likely a sign that the Cowboys are prepared to move forward with Hanna and ready to bid farewell to John Phillips. Phillips is a good teammate and a steady player so a return would not be surprising. What would be surprising is anyone but Hanna as #2 on the depth chart in 2013.
Frampton has been a special team’s ace and provided depth at one of the most problematic positions, safety. Compared to another special teams ace, Danny McCray (who is also a free agent), Frampton is better at both kick coverage and pass coverage. Frampton will most likely return but it will be at the expense of McCray.
Cowboys will choose to punt him (cheesy pun alert). He has had a very poor second half to the season and the Cowboys can easily replace him with a younger and cheaper alternative in 2013.
The Cowboys would love to keep all of their guys and also upgrade at other positions but they lack the economic flexibility to do so. Since the cap is only expected to rise roughly $1M in 2013, the Cowboys could have around $22M to play with if they restructure a contract or two (especially DeMarcus Ware’s contract). The $22M will need to cover the resigning of the players listed above, the draft class (approximately $5M), the $5M penalty is assessed for the Miles Austin contract, and any outside free agents.
Note: The Cap Calculations are an estimate. If the Cowboys decide to cut Doug Free or Orlando Scandrick prior to June 1st, they will also cost against the cap in substantial dead money. Tony Romo will expectedly be resigned to a more costly deal this offseason also (He’s a FA in 2014). He’s been grossly underpaid compared to his peers so expect a big contract soon. The money goes fast. What would you do?