May 21, 2013; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware (94) works with defensive end Anthony Spencer (93) during organized team activities at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Price Slash: This Cowboy Could Return In 2014

 

So how much is Cowboys defensive end Anthony Spencer’s surgically mended knee going to fetch on the open market?

The 2007 first-round pick turns 30 in two weeks. He played out his rookie contract in 2011 without a long-term extension and was franchise tagged for $8.6 million guaranteed in 2012. Spencer responded with his best season, notching 95 tackles, 11 sacks and a Pro Bowl berth.

Long-term extension talks went nowhere in the offseason, so Spencer was franchised again in 2013, this time for $10.6 million. With long-term talks dead, the organization tight on cap space, and a prohibitive cost in excess of $15 million to franchise Spencer again in 2014, it was widely thought this season would be the defensive end’s swan song as a Cowboy.

Instead, Spencer missed most of camp and the season opener following arthroscopic surgery after hyperextending his left knee during OTAs, and played just 38 snaps in Week 2 before shutting it down for microfracture surgery on the same knee.

Microfracture surgery is performed to repair cartilage, which cushions bones in areas where they meet as joints. A surgical awl is used to poke tiny holes in the bone near the damaged cartilage. Those holes, or microfractures, release cells in the bones that build new cartilage and replace the damaged tissue. Neat, huh?

The drawback is this new cartilage isn’t nearly as durable as the original, and is prone to breaking down more easily. So who’s going to pay long-term money to a 30-year-old defensive end with one pro bowl showing, a lost season behind him, and soft knee cartilage?

NFL players bouncing back from the surgery is hit and miss. Even the success stories are a mixed bag. New Orleans wide receiver Marques Colston had the procedure in 2009 and has averaged over 80 catches and 1,000 yards in the four seasons since, though he never returned to his explosive 2007 form. Tight End Kellen Winslow underwent microfracture in 2007, and returned to a Pro Bowl season with Cleveland, but his production fell sharply afterward as he’s posted pedestrian numbers with four teams over the past six seasons.

Spencer could recover, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 and he’s no wideout – he plays a big boy game in the trenches. His opportunity to command a long-term deal with big-time guaranteed money is likely past him.

And that means he’s back on the Cowboys’ radar. This signing has risks, but for the right price – perhaps a two- or three-year deal laden with incentives – signing Spencer might be a smart way to start rebuilding this battered defensive line.

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