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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  • SmartThinking

    Selvie played well … not over the top, but well. Keep Selvie and upgrade the position from him. Dump Spencer or give him a Doug Free talking to.

  • Juanito Juanito

    let him go, or sign him for the minimum

  • BradAustin

    Please no. lol I don’t think i could handle very few coaching changes and once again banking on Spencer, Crawford, and Ware to be the playmaker anchors of the d-line. 2.5 of those 3 guys weren’t even on the field. Imagine if we paid Spencer even 3-4 mil, then address DT much harder than DE due to Spencer being back, and again he didn’t play. I’d be sick how much he stole from us. This guy had one very strong year, and even that season was nothing like a Ware in his prime or modern day Watt. Let’s be real, he did only have 11 sacks in 2012, although he was a beast tackling.

    No way he was worth $22+ mil the last 2 years even if both years had been the same as 2012. You could get 3 very capable players for 22 mil over 2 years. That’s almost 4 mil per year for all 3 players. But we choose to get one 11-sack (one season) guy over 3 that can play at a pretty solid level. Dumb. That’s not how you win the modern NFL. It’s better to have a couple of stars and then a lot of pretty good players, than 6-8 big rich stars, some good players, and then some total scrubs. 4 less superstars can buy at least 7 pretty good players. It’s just not worth it to keep more than 4 huge salaries with the mass number of injuries and way teams can exploit any single true weakness they find (Heath, Webb).

    In my opinion Spencer will want a base of 4 mil at least plus high dollar incentives he likely would reach (10 sacks, etc). The guy is beat up, older, and Ware is in the same shape. Time for some new blood. If we have $4 mil laying around to buy a free agent, let’s buy someone that may play solidly for 3-4 years and pair with Crawford (he’s young too)…That way we likely wouldn’t have to draft that position for a while after 2014.

  • BradAustin

    The bright spot is our rotational players are looking solid…Selvie and Hayden proved they can be solid change up guys once we get true starter talent. Yes, they played pretty well considering what we expected, but neither was dominating which you look for in a 4-3 DL. Ben Bass will join them on the second level. Crawford is back and likely will be a solid starter at one end or tackle. While Ware will play the other end yet need to be spelled. So we definitely need to find a speed rusher and a powerful tackle. One thing being forgotten is Selvie was of position after the first few weeks. He was really tearing it up as a speed rusher replacing injured Ware. Once Ware joined the season he moved to strong side and had to take on more of a power role which dulled down his speed. We most address starting defense at all costs…DE, DT, and a safety. The DL play will help the LBs and secondary step their play up a ton. Those are musts and the defense will be in so much better shape on all levels right away. Hoping Waters will come back on OL or we can snag a guy similar again.

  • BradAustin

    BTW…very interesting article and def something I could see Jerry pursuing strongly. Never even thought of this scenario. Good job.