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Eatman: Getting Spencer Back Means Beating Market First


IRVING, Texas – A year ago, the Cowboys slapped the franchise tag on Anthony Spencer and you would've thought they had spent a first-round pick on a punter.

There was such uproar from fans who couldn't believe a guy with no more than 6.5 sacks in one season could earn $8.8 million last year alone.

As it turned out, the Cowboys probably did make a mistake there. In hindsight, signing him to a long-term deal right then would've been cheaper in the long run. Then again, who knows if that security would've led to Spencer's career season that included 11 sacks, a team-leading 106 tackles and his first Pro Bowl selection.

But now, putting another franchise tag on Spencer seems exactly what many fans want the Cowboys to do, which will actually cost them about $10.63 million this year.

But it's not going to happen. It can't happen.

The time period to franchise tag Spencer is Feb. 18 to March 4. That is done so teams can keep their negotiating rights with their current players before the free-agent signing period begins, which in this case starts March 12.

However, last year the Cowboys simply let Spencer play the entire season under that tag. Now, while they would prefer to re-sign Spencer to a long-term deal, they're likely going to have to wait until the first week or so of free agency occurs and hope Spencer doesn't get the deal he's looking for, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of $12 million per season.

I've heard plenty of fans simply say to just put the franchise tag on him so he can't go anywhere. Sounds easy enough, but the Cowboys just don't have the money – right now.

This team is about $20 million over the cap as is. If they tagged Spencer, that would count $10.63 million against the cap on March 12, the first day of the new league year.

Getting $20 million under is going to be hard enough, but now you're asking them to get about $30 million below? Not going to happen. Some of the things that need to occur to shave off some cap space will be restructuring player contracts, including Tony Romo.

But this isn't just a simple moving-money-around procedure this time. This will be getting Romo a new deal and making it both cap-friendly enough for this year, but something Romo's camp will be comfortable with in terms of where he stands against some of the other high-priced quarterbacks in the league. [embedded_ad]

Again, going back to Spencer, the Cowboys certainly want him back. They think he'll be a nice fit in the 4-3 scheme. But like all players, the money has to make sense.

For them, the best way to make this happen is to get under the cap comfortably enough to sign Spencer to a long-term deal. But by then, he'll probably have a few offers on the table. Don't forget, he's got two defensive coordinators out there in Wade Phillips (Houston) and now Rob Ryan (New Orleans) who have always called Spencer underappreciated and will likely have some interest in coaching him again.

And if you're Spencer, you have to wait until free agency starts, right? This is the biggest contract he'll ever get, and maybe the last one. He's got to take care of himself, so don't expect a hometown discount in any way.

The Cowboys aren't going to give up on getting Spencer back. But unless they get creative with a contract before the free-agent period begins, they're going to have to beat out a few other teams for his services.

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