IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys can't be sure what they're going to get from Anthony Spencer in his transition from outside linebacker to defensive end.
Well, it's worth the risk.
Given the Cowboys' cap situation earlier in the offseason, it seemed improbable the team could afford to give Spencer the franchise tag. Without an extension done for Tony Romo, it seemed even more unlikely.
The Cowboys still need to officially restructure a few more contracts, but even without the Romo deal, they've demonstrated they can, in fact, get under the cap while keeping Spencer around.
It's a decision that makes complete sense.
Spencer can still be traded if the right deal comes along, or another team could offer Spencer a long-term deal, in which case the Cowboys get compensated with picks. It's more likely the former will occur than the latter. But worst case scenario, the Cowboys just retained their best defender from last season.
He was the only Cowboys player generating a rush while DeMarcus Ware hobbled across the field the second half of the season, nursing both elbow and shoulder injuries. Without Spencer, the Cowboys may not have defeated the Bengals or the Steelers.
When the Cowboys sacked Andy Dalton five times, Spencer had two of them, including a crucial third down sack in the fourth quarter. When the Cowboys sacked the Steelers four times, Spencer had 1.5 of them, both takedowns occurring with fewer than four minutes remaining in a tie game.
The defense needed Spencer, who even served as the primary defensive communicator after Sean Lee and Bruce Carter went down. He might not be the most vocal player on the field, but he's the one the team looked to when it needed a play to be made.
It may take some getting used to after switching back to defensive end for the first time since his college days at Purdue, but the one-year tag allows the Cowboys to see what they have in Spencer before investing in him for the future. He needs another year of productivity to verify that his outstanding 2012 season was no anomaly. [embedded_ad]
Spencer's been tagged before as a run-stopping outside linebacker that can generate occasional pressure, but his 11 sacks in 2012 and six the year prior demonstrated he can be more than that.
He lived up to the franchise tag a year ago, and for 120 percent of what he played for last season, Spencer's worth the $10.6 million investment to be tagged again.