Well, Jerry, you have surprised me again. I thought it was going to be a difficult process to get the Cowboys under the salary cap, when they were so recently $20 million over. It took them barely 24 hours to pull the trigger to get under. Ok, I thought, they got under the cap well in advance of the March 12 deadline, but surely there’s no way they can retain Anthony Spencer. Well, then they put the franchise tag on him. You can say what you want about the front office, but they sure have a way of making a difficult situation look easy.
To this end, I am curious to find out what their intentions are with Mr. Spencer. Did they buy themselves some time to try to lock him up long term? There is no question Spencer had a fantastic year last year and was arguably the best player on the defensive side of the ball. His ability to play the run and effectively disrupt the pass game through both coverage and pressuring the quarterback is an incredible value. Since the Cowboys are changing their defensive scheme to a 4-3, the coverage aspect of Spencer’s game is irrelevant, but his ability to play the run and pressure the quarterback, will continue to be a hugely valued asset.
Or did they pay for an expensive one year rental? While Anthony Spencer played as a 4-3 defensive end at Purdue, he hasn’t played the position in NFL to this point. It’s entirely possible that putting his hand in the dirt makes it more difficult to get off of blocks in nearer proximity to the offensive line. There might be some hesitation on the part of the Cowboys in regard to signing a 29 year old newly converted defensive end to a huge long term contract. If Spencer had seen the open market, there is no question that a 3-4 team would have opened the checkbook to bring him in – particularly teams who have defensive coordinators that are very familiar with him in New Orleans and Houston. It might be the wise decision to keep him on the franchise tag to see how he fares this season and then let him go after the season is over – or make an aggressive push for him, if he excels in the new defensive scheme.
Or is it possible they used the franchise tag to keep his rights long enough to negotiate a trade to another team? This one might be kind of a stretch, and unless they have a trade partner in mind, is unlikely to have been their primary motive. If they had let Spencer go into free agency, the Cowboys would have likely received a compensatory pick next year – so it’s not as though they would be letting him go for nothing in return. If this is in the minds of the Cowboys at all, it would have to be just a facet of the previous scenario I discussed – use the franchise tag to see what you have. I would say however, the Cowboys would be foolish not to accept a second round or higher pick for him. That scenario is probably unlikely, but it wouldn’t hurt to keep their mind open.
Ultimately, my hope is that they retained him to keep their options open and to see what they have. If he plays great as a defensive end? Fantastic – you have an excellent player in your defense and you try to resign him at the end of the year. If he doesn’t play well? You let him go and get your compensatory trick in the next draft. If someone wants to trade for his exclusive negotiating rights this year for a 1st or 2nd round pick? Fantastic. I just hope they’re not too anxious to sign him to a long term blockbuster deal, no matter how great a player he might be.