History Repeating: Is Spencer The New Ellis?

Get your popcorn ready. The DallasCowboys.com Top 10 list makes its return Friday afternoon. This time the category is the shrewdest re-signings or contract extensions made by the team during the salary cap era.

Value was the main consideration - what the Cowboys got for their investment. Some of the choices were obvious, like Jay Ratliff and Jason Witten, who clearly outperformed their second contracts. We had to look deeper for others.

A spoiler alert here: One deal we picked was the 2003 contract extension for defensive end Greg Ellis, a six-year, $24 million deal he came to regret not long thereafter, when an uptick in production rendered the contract very team-friendly.

The reason the topic of best re-signings and extensions was chosen, of course, is because the Cowboys are mulling a few of those kinds of deals right now, with guys such as Abram Elam, Laurent Robinson and Anthony Spencer.

Spencer, obviously, has been a big point of discussion this week. He'll probably be the most expensive of the Cowboys' free agents, which is hard for a lot of fans to come to grips with because his production - specifically his sack numbers - haven't entirely lived up to the expectations one might have for a first-round pick. Spencer has 21.5 sacks in 53 starts over the last five years.

Compare that to Ellis, an even higher draft pick, who had 27.0 sacks in 76 starts during his first five seasons. While he wasn't an elite pass-rusher, Ellis did a lot of other things well, particularly against the run.

Unlike Spencer, he was almost never asked to drop back into coverage, but then again he didn't have a DeMarcus Ware drawing double-teams on the other side.

Still, the Cowboys opted to extend Ellis at a time when his value was a bit underappreciated by a lot of people. And while he never turned into Lawrence Taylor or anything, he did supply the Cowboys with some much-needed veteran presence and upped his production considerably over the second half of his career, registering 50.0 sacks in 80 starts over the next six years.

As they attempt to decide Spencer's worth for the coming years, can the Cowboys anticipate improvement with age, as was the case with Ellis? Like Spencer, Ellis was 28 when he began his sixth season.

Of course, the size of the average NFL contract has grown quite a bit since 2003. A similar deal today might pay Spencer $6 or $7 million a year.

Would that kind of money prove more reasonable for Spencer than it first appears?

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