I can’t say I have witnessed many shockingly crafty player strategy moves come from the Dallas Cowboys over the last several years. In 2012, the Morris Claiborne draft trade-up was solid and unexpected, yet his value slightly exceeds the price paid in draft selection loss.
I do expect Claiborne to be a high caliber fixture on the Cowboys’ defense for years to come. However, his immense value was widely recognized by all teams, and the cost was a probable future starter lost by way of the forfeited 2nd round pick.
On the contrary, a move to trade the franchise tagged Spencer would resemble Jimmy Johnson genius. Prior to the 2013 tag, Spencer was likely done wearing the star.
I doubt very seriously the Cowboys would have had the financial freedom and desire to match the highest bidder for the top-rated linebacker in 2013 free agency.
Ranked high on the free agent list and coming off a stellar season indicating he is in his prime, I have little doubt that trading Spencer would land Dallas a 2nd round selection in the upcoming draft.
It’s no secret after Sensabaugh was axed, the Cowboys are in dire need of a starting caliber safety, along with offensive line and defensive line starters. Trading Spencer is a leap to firmly address all 3 deficient areas.
EARLY DRAFT POTENCY
The selection slots in which teams fully expect to receive starter production are mostly found in the top 2 rounds. Sure starters often come from much lower in the draft, mostly viewed as bonus good fortune.
Yet the prevailing expectations and normal barometer when drafting is for 1st and 2nd round picks to become immediate difference makers right out of the gate.
With Spencer valued for a 2nd round pick, let’s see where it leaves the Cowboys…
Dallas must secure 3 starters in the 2013 draft…OG or OT, DE or DT, and at safety. With the Spencer trade, Dallas would now own (1) 1st-round selection and (2) 2nd round selections.
And where does this draft happen to be the deepest and most likely to provide starting caliber players in the first 2 rounds? DL, OL, and safety. In essence, with 3 selections in the first 2 rounds, this draft is tailor made to be a home run for the Cowboys.
So let’s say things work out ideally and the Cowboys snag a starting OG, DT, and safety. All highly possible outcomes with those picks. What other significant benefits come from trading Spencer?
FREE AGENCY BENEFITS
Recall that Dallas had to clear enough cap space to tag Spencer in the first place…$10.6 million. As I understand it, if traded, the Cowboys are off the hook for that 2013 tag salary and the new team assumes Spencer’s current and future costs.
That being so, Dallas would now have freed up that $10.6 mil to pay the extra draft selection, yet also still have a hefty sum to pick up a couple of quality free agents.
Andre Branch was a high 2nd round DE selection (38th overall) for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012. Branch came with a 2012 cap hit of roughly $925k.
We can assume the cost of the 2013 2nd round draft pick Spencer would swap for lands just North of that, around $1.2 mil.
Subtracting $1.2 mil from Spencer’s $10.6 mil tag cost would provide the Cowboys with an estimated $9.4 mil more in cap space than they have today.
$9.4 mil is certainly enough cash to acquire 2 solid free agents to at least provide quality contributions next season. One potential target might be Bears’ DE Israel Idonije.
Playing under now Cowboys D-line Coach Rod Marinelli in 2012…Idonije racked up 48 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 5 QB hits, and 31 hurries. 5 hurries at the expense of Tony Romo.
He was the 12th ranked 4-3 DE of 62 who played > 25% of his team’s snaps. In 2012 his cap hit was $2.5 mil. While turning 33 next fall and entering his 10th season, Idonije is still playing at a high level. His cost projects in the 3 years/$12-$15 mil ($9 mil guaranteed) neighborhood.
SAME SHOES TO FILL (DE)
The trade would recreate the DE void that Spencer has now refilled. Yet if he were never tagged that hole would still be open regardless. Tyrone Crawford will make a sizable jump after another off-season, a year of NFL experience, and switch to his natural 4-3 DE position.
Let’s put it this way, am I more comfortable starting Tyrone Crawford at DE or Matt Johnson at safety? Hands down Tyrone Crawford.
I have observed Crawford and witnessed his potential in live NFL game situations. Johnson is a mystery roll of the dice.
I spent an entire off-season hearing how amazing WR Andre Holmes looked in practice. The latest Jerry-anointed savior then contributed 2 catches for 11 total yards in 2012.
Similar story with Matt Johnson. He looked promising in the little time he was healthy enough to practice. Honestly, that tells me nothing about how he will actually play in his first year on the field, much less as the immediate starter.
Johnson was s a small school college player, has yet to play in an NFL game, and already has battled injuries. Not ideal and safe to start by any means.
Suffice to say, Crawford is much more reliable at DE, than Johnson at safety. Along with Crawford, Dallas can add a quality free agent as a starter/rotation guy, or a high draft pick at DE. The Spencer trade will easily provide flexibility for this.
When the ink is dry, trading a tagged Spencer would indirectly amount to a 3-for-1 player swap…Spencer and his huge cap hit exchanged for a high draft pick and 2 quality free agents. Spencer will likely be gone in 2014 if not signed to a long-term deal this off-season.
Nobody knows if Spencer in the 4-3 DE role can duplicate production worthy of a lofty contract. He’s been fairly solid for years but an elite player just once, which is where his money demands currently reside. That’s a risk this cash strapped organization cannot afford to take.
With the 3 new players ultimately acquired (draft pick and 2 free agents) as a result of trading Spencer, Dallas would have 3 new additions likely to contribute for a few years at least. And the draft pick much longer.
This translates into less holes to fill next off-season. If Spencer plays out his 2nd tag, that tremendous luxury would vanish.
Trading Spencer would be expert level maneuvering you’d expect from Bill Belichick or Jim Harbaugh, certainly not the Jerry and Jason fiasco twins.
Up to this week, Cowboys fans had received nothing but the usual lame GM strategy…retaining the same 8-8 faces, blindly hoping for better results.
Even with the surprise release of Sensabaugh (questionable due to uncertainty left at safety), the future remained a constant Ground Hog Day of mediocrity.
This masterful trade move would represent an uncharacteristically bold transaction and abruptly bring new life to the consistently regurgitated depth chart in Dallas.
Part of me is wise enough to know this ideal trade scenario is too good to be true coming from Jerry Jones. The other half naively clings to fading optimism that new faces will appear and propel us over the Mount St. Helens playoff hump.
Hopefully when it comes to Jerry, even the sun shines on our GM every once in a while.