IRVING, Texas - There wasn't one player talked about more this past offseason than Anthony Spencer. Most of it wasn't too positive.
Nobody seemed to understand why the Cowboys would pay an $8.8 million franchise tag for a guy that hadn't produced more than six sacks in a season.
Now Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan have repeatedly said Spencer's value goes far beyond the number of sacks. We started to see that in the first three games of the season this year.
And then we definitely saw it last week against the Bears. And last week against the Bears, Spencer watched the game from the sidelines in street clothes with a shoulder/pectoral injury.
The theory you don't know how much a player is missed until he's gone was evident Monday night. Anthony Spencer isn't just a good pass rusher, but he's a much better run stopper.
No, the Bears didn't trounce all over the Cowboys with Matt Forte and Michael Bush, but they were effective enough to keep the chains moving. And many of those runs went right at Victor Butler, who had a hard time "setting the edge" and forcing plays back inside.
Coach Jason Garrett said Butler had a solid game overall, but mostly as a pass-rusher. The knock on him since he got here was that he was rather one-dimensional and wouldn't hold up as an every-down player having to go against the run.
We saw glimpses of that Monday night. Butler wasn't terrible by any means. But at 6-2, 245, his strength isn't … his strength. He's an up-the-field rusher. And while he's pretty good at that, one-dimensional players can be liabilities.
Let's not knock Butler as much as give a little praise to Spencer, someone who hasn't received a lot of that in his career. And make no mistake, a first-round pick in 2007, Spencer hasn't met those high expectations. It's been six years now and we pretty much know what we're going to get out of him.
The bigger question is, is that enough to be appreciated?
Fans see what DeMarcus Ware does on one side of the defense and wonder why Spencer can't do the same.
Well for one, Ware is better. He's just a more athletically-gifted player who beats his guy way more often than Spencer. But also, Spencer plays on the strong side where you'll see more run-stopping and less rushing.
Going into last week, Spencer actually led the team with nine quarterback pressures and was second in tackles with 29, and tied with Ware with two tackles for loss.
I know we all wanted more and expected more from Spencer. But Monday's game should've been a clear sign that with this current team, his absence is felt. Not saying the Cowboys need to go ahead and lock him up with a long-term deal.
But if they don't, it seems clear his replacement is not on this current roster.