Anthony Spencer: Should Dallas Cowboys Use Franchise Tag on Him?

Tom Firme@TFirmeAnalyst IIFebruary 22, 2012

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 17:  Linebacker Anthony Spencer #93 of the Dallas Cowboys pressures quarterback Josh Freeman #5 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers December 17, 2011 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Anthony Spencer would become one of the higher profile free agents from the Dallas Cowboys. However, the Cowboys plan to place the franchise tag on Spencer. Since the franchise tag should be placed on players who are seemingly high value to a franchise, one might question the decision by Jerry Jones to tag Spencer.

Spencer, a five-year pro who the Cowboys drafted with the No. 26 overall pick in the 2007 draft, hasn't been an overwhelming success since he first donned the Cowboys navy blue and white. He has 21.5 sacks and 193 tackles in 76 games, only 4.3 sacks and 48.6 tackles per season.

In 2011, Spencer collected six sacks, matching his career high set in 2009. Six was a nice number for him in 2009, but one would have expected him to move beyond that by now. Spencer wasn't a torrential presence in opposing backfields last season. Often, DeMarcus Ware was the only one getting in the face of the opposing quarterback.

Sometimes no one brought the pressure.

Forget about a lack of intensity, the failure of Rob Ryan's overt Admiral Ackbar style of blitz packages or lack of consistency.

Spencer just has to sprint hard into the opposing backfield and make noise.


Is Spencer Worth the Type of Player Who Is Worth the Investment?

Looking purely at Spencer's production last year and his ability, he doesn't seem worth the tag for the Cowboys. Spencer was tied for 18th among outside linebackers in sacks and 49th overall. He was 26th among outside linebackers in tackles.

That's a far cry from being one of the biggest producers at the position.

Now, looking at comparative value, he seems better. Mario Williams would be a great addition if Jones would be willing to spend on him. One may or may not want to push Jones' luck bidding on Williams. After Williams, the drop-off in talent among free-agent outside linebackers—particularly those who have played in a 3-4 defense—is steep.

Drafting an outside linebacker brings potential, but also brings uncertainty. Courtney Upshaw could be a terrific pass rusher, but was arrested for domestic assault while at Alabama. Melvin Ingram is a powerful rusher, but never started at the college level. Ronnell Lewis, who should be on the board when the Cowboys draft in the second round, is a fast, athletic player, but struggles to fight off blockers.

Even though draftees would cost a fraction of Spencer's price, they may not even be as effective as him.

Consider whether Spencer is the best player to franchise among Cowboys players. Bradie James, Abram Elam and Mat McBriar are the only other unrestricted or exclusive rights free agents to have started 12 or more games for the Cowboys last season. Elam was unspectacular and McBriar wasn't at his best last season.

James also had a down year, collecting 29 tackles, barely more than a third of the number he had in 2010. While some might argue that his football IQ and ability to read plays is valuable, it doesn't entirely make up for his poor production.

Having said that, no other Cowboys free agent-to-be seems worth a franchise tag.


Conclusion: The Cowboys Don't Have to Franchise Spencer

If Jones decides that he doesn't want to spend the money to franchise Spencer, he doesn't have to do it. For that matter, the Cowboys don't have to franchise anyone. Jones has only tagged a couple of players, such as Flozell Adams and Ken Hamlin.

While the free-agent market or Jones' willingness to spend freely might inflate the price of free agents, the $8.8 million Jones would spend in franchising Spencer seems a bit much. Jones may be best off waiting to see if he can lower the price by waiting to sign Spencer to a multi-year deal for a more reasonable price.

Jones won't be on the hook for as much of an investment as in previous years for franchising Spencer. With the new collective bargaining agreement, franchise tag values are averaged based on the franchise tag values of the last five years. This decreases the amount of money Spencer would be due if Jones decides to tag him.

Still, franchising a player like Spencer is a significant investment. Jones could sign two players for what he would spend on Spencer.

Then again, knowing Jones, he may not.

Jones deserves some credit for going about this with some care. According to ESPNDallas/Fort Worth, the Cowboys look to be waiting to franchise Spencer. This gives Jones time to negotiate with Spencer for a deal or think over his possibilities.

Hopefully, Jones reconsiders franchising Spencer.