The Tag

first two were inside guys. Chances are that on the open market Spencer's guarantee on a multi-year deal would be well into double figures.

The draft? If you give up on Spencer, don't sign a guy in free agency because the available dudes aren't considered as good as what you've got or too expensive, then you paint yourself into a corner of need at that position. And because you don't have a top-5 five pick, you are at the mercy of what the first 13 teams do. That could get you into reaching at No. 14 just because you need a guy at that position.

As I like to say, get in that squeeze and you end up with Shante Carver.

Plus, what if the rookie draft choice isn't proficient at playing the run? Remember, it took Ware a good year to master playing the run standing up on the outside. You'd be, as they say, robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Plus ... plus ... look at it this way. The Cowboys top two outside linebackers totaled 25.5 sacks. I'd venture to say few teams in the league playing a true 3-4 had a better or more productive tandem of pure outside linebackers. The Cowboys' problem was their interior guys, defensive ends and nose tackles. Those five guys totaled just 10 sacks, and nearly half belonged to Jason Hatcher (4.5). That's right where the improvement is needed.

Take San Francisco. Rookie Aldon Smith, an outside linebacker in the 3-4 who put his hand on the ground in the nickel's four-man front, led the team with 14 sacks. But 3-4 defensive end Justin Smith chipped in seven sacks from inside.

Now look, I'm not saying Spencer at times isn't disappointing. He can be one of those aggravating "almost" guys – almost sacks the quarterback, almost drops the running back for a loss, almost makes a spectacular player. But you know, sometimes if you can't afford or find some good tenderloin, the rib eye will have to do.

Plus, look at the business alternatives you have when franchising Spencer:

First, the franchise tag buys you time to continue negotiating a long-term deal, if that's what you really want to do, thus lessening this year's cap impact.

Secondly, who knows, another team might give you the first and third for the right to sign Spencer. Or, if a team really wants him, you might be able to trade his rights. I'm told nowadays that 10 percent of franchised players end up being traded.

Or, you just keep the guy, but only on a one-year deal, which means you've covered yourself in the draft if a suitable 3-4 outside linebacker isn't available when you are selecting. Almost like getting a one-year hall pass, if you know what I mean.

And if a No. 14-worthy outside linebacker type is available, then you can qualify taking the guy with the idea your draft choice will eventually become the starter, either halfway through the season or next year when Spencer once again would be an unrestricted free agent.

Ha, even better than that hall pass, because as we've seen with the Cowboys, you can never have enough pressure players upfront.

Now, you say the Cowboys only have $12.6 million of available cap space once the projected draft expenditures are subtracted, and three-quarters of that would be eaten up by Spencer's franchise tag. Well, truth be known, the available space is probably less than that once restricted and exclusive rights tenders are given over the next couple of weeks.

But the Cowboys can create more space by restructuring contracts. A lot more, or at least put it this way, enough to do whatever prudent business that needs to be done.

So look, no sense growing hasty trying to get better like now. This idea of potentially franchising Spencer is not as crazy as you might think. Might be the best and safest decision the Cowboys can make if they decide to go that route, protecting yourself against the unknown yet keeping your long-term options open.

If only the financial market had such safeguards.

And if it helps, maybe don't think of Spencer as a franchise player, just franchised. Or better yet, designated a Veteran I, a much more palatable term laced with no misleading connotation.

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