In less than one week the Dallas Cowboys have to decide if they want to use their franchise tag on Anthony Spencer. Spencer has played five seasons for the Cowboys since they selected him in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft. In those illustrious five years, Spencer season high is a lowly six sacks.
Even though Spencer has failed to live up to expectations, Cowboys Executive Vice President Stephen Jones recently called Spencer “a hell of a player.” Spencer is strong against the run, but he is extremely disappointing and inconsistent when rushing the passer. Spencer can show flashes of brilliance on occasion, but has not developed into the consistent pass rusher opposite DeMarcus Ware that the Cowboys need.
Spencer’s shortcomings make the recent news that the Cowboys are considering placing their franchise tag on Spencer confusing. The Cowboys would have to pay 8.8 million to Spencer in 2012, or more than they are going to pay Jay Ratliff in 2012.
Spencer does hold some value for the Cowboys. Right now the Cowboys already have second year player Bruce Carter penciled in to start at linebacker in 2012. Carter barely played in 2011 after starting the season injured and sitting behind Bradie James and Keith Brooking on the depth chart. In other words, 2012 will essentially be his rookie season.
The Cowboys also plan on focusing their time and money on improving their secondary in free agency.
The Cowboys are unlikely to spend big money on an impact defensive lineman such as Mario Williams.
Spencer would provide some sort of stability at outside linebacker for another season. In some ways franchising Spencer makes sense, but in reality, franchising Spencer is taking the easy out.
Spencer does not deserve 8.8 million dollars and franchising him so they do not have to find a replacement would be a mistake. There is a player who proved at the combine he can replace Spencer and live up to expectations the Cowboys had for him. That player is Ronnell Lewis.
At the combine, Lewis exceeded the numbers that made Spencer a first round pick. Lewis ran a faster 40 yard dash. He beat Spencer by six reps on the bench, and he was faster on the 20 yard shuffle. Lewis’ numbers proved that he is the physical beast needed to be successful as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Numbers obviously do not make the player, but Lewis showed his talent at Oklahoma. Lewis was dominant against the run and a relentless pass rusher. The only weaknesses in Lewis’ game are pass coverage and technique when rushing the passer. Technique should not be problem in the NFL. Coaches will teach him more moves when rushing the passer. The Cowboys should also not worry about his weaknesses in coverage. In passing situations Rob Ryan will be blitzing Lewis from all angles using his strengths and not his weakness.
Drafting Lewis would give the Cowboys the dynamic player opposite of Ware that they have been looking for. There is no reason the Cowboys should spend 8.8 million on Spencer when they have the opportunity to select a better player in the draft. Lewis will not decrease the Cowboys’ talent stopping the run and he will increase the Cowboys’ talent rushing the passer.
Before the combine, Lewis was projected as a second round draft pick. There is still a good chance Lewis will be available when the Cowboys pick in the second round. Even if the Cowboys now have to trade up to draft Lewis – they should.
There is no question that Lewis is talented. The Cowboys know what they have in Spencer. After five seasons, the Cowboys know he does not create the chaos in the backfield they need. Lewis can bring a new dimension to the defense. Not only is Lewis a better pass rusher, but he also has a mean streak. He can be the start of a new attitude on defense. Lewis can punish opponents and the Cowboys need that type of player on their team.