Anthony Spencer is going to become an unrestricted free agent in March, and the Cowboys have to make the decision to sign him to a new contract or not.
A contract that keeps him away from another team is going to be pricey, possibly four or five years at seven million a year. That’s a lot of money for one guy, you need to make sure he’s well worth it. Personally I don’t see any way that the Cowboys sign Spencer to a new deal–but that doesn’t mean that he won’t be on the roster in 2012. It’s looking increasingly likely that the Cowboys will place the franchise tag on Spencer.
The franchise tag allows a team to sign a player to a one year contract, which allows a team to keep the player from being on the open market but not be forced into a long term deal. The benefit to the player is that the guaranteed money under the franchise tag is on the top end of the market. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement between the League office and the Player’s Union updated the terms of the franchise tag. The franchise tag now takes the highest paid player at the position (in this case, Outside Linebacker) in the 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 seasons. Then it takes the average of those salaries, and awards that salary to the player being franchised. This equates out to around 8 million dollars for Anthony Spencer if he’s franchised this year.
Why It’s a Good Idea
We do have a lot of needs on the team, especially on defense. We’re not going to be able to address every single one in this offseason, so why manufacture a deficiency that we don’t need to? He had six sacks last season, tying a career high–those would have to be replaced by either a rookie or a backup. We need a cornerback, safety, and (at least) defensive tackle/end, and using a draft pick on an Outside Linebacker means that pick isn’t being used on one of those guys. If the team doesn’t want to agree to a long-term deal with Spencer he will be an unrestricted free agent in 2013, and we can draft a replacement at that point–when we have presumably already addressed a few needs through the 2012 draft. Even though we can’t upgrade everywhere in one year, the Cowboys still need to be competitive each year.
Why It’s a Bad Idea
You can only franchise one player per year, and only tag him one time while he plays for you. He gets the average of the top salaries for the last five years at that position–I know I already said that, but it bears repeating. That’s a ton of money. Placing the tag on Spencer ignores the logic of the tag. You don’t franchise a guy because you don’t want to replace him, you franchise him because you can’t replace him.
Is Anthony Spencer irreplaceable? His main role is to keep defenses from using double teams to negate DeMarcus Ware’s rush (#94 doesn’t get as many double teams as people assume, but that’s another post), and basically form a pincer effect of a pass rush attacking the offensive line from both sides. He hasn’t produced. Six sacks is his career high. That’s one every 10 quarters. Let’s say we franchise him, and he has an (by his standards) All Pro year and gets eight sacks–that’s one million dollars per sack. Not even putting Eli Manning on the turf is worth that much money. Many would argue that Jason Hatcher is more effective and less expensive (about 1.5m in 2012). At the very least, Hatcher can do what Spencer does.
Here’s my thought: This draft is extremely important. One that can change the course of the organization. It can end up as one that we look back on producing Super Bowl rings in years to come. True we don’t want to add holes to the laundry list that we already have, but we could save money for another player (keeping Spencer keeps you from having a shot at both Laurent Robinson and Carl Nicks) that upgrades a position we need. Losing Spencer isn’t going to leave a void that can’t be filled. We should upgrade everywhere we can. We’re not going to have an all pro opposite Ware this season regardless of what we do with Spencer. We should make salary and personnel positions with a mindset of having the best possible players at the highest number of positions.
Keeping Spencer might give us a better ROLB than his replacement, but that’s not guaranteed. What is certain is that his return will hurt another unit’s improvement–most likely the Offensive Line–and that trade off is unacceptable.