The Dallas Cowboys have decided to use their franchise tag for the third time in the teams' history.
The first two times the Cowboys used their tag, on offensive tackle Flozell Adams and safety Ken Hamlin, the Cowboys reached long term deals with the players before the season started. In all likelihood the Cowboys are planning on doing the same this season after placing their franchise tag on outside linebacker Anthony Spencer today.
The Cowboys decided Spencer was too valuable on defense to let walk in free agency. Spencer is strong against the run and he has shown the ability to make big plays in the backfield—those plays have just not come frequently enough. The Cowboys now owe Spencer 8.8 million dollars this season if they do not come to terms on a long-term deal. In my mind 8.8 million dollars is a lot for an average player on defense.
Whether or not the Cowboys should have tagged Spencer is up for debate, but the deed is done. Spencer will be the Cowboys' starting outside linebacker opposite DeMarcus Ware for at least the 2012 season, and he will be very important to the defense's success next season.
Spencer never lived up to his first round hype, but now he has a second chance to prove his value as a franchise tag player. If Spencer does not improve from last season, the $8.8 million will have been poorly spent.
With that being said, using their franchise tag on Spencer was not the worse decision the Cowboys have ever made and should not affect their offseason plans. The Cowboys still have money to sign a top free agent or two, and their wish list has included names such as Brandon Carr, Cortland Finnegan, and Carl Nicks.
Mario Williams will not be coming to Dallas with this tagging but he was never a realistic option to begin with. There is no reason to believe this signing has damaged the 'Boys' chances at signing one or two of those players.
The Cowboys also did not have another free agent to use their franchise tag on. Bradie James, Martellus Bennett, and Keith Brooking are the Cowboys' next best free agents and none of those players are as important as Spencer. Franchising Spencer did not let a more important player walk in free agency.
The Cowboys also do not have anyone currently on their roster to replace Spencer. Victor Butler would have been their best option on their roster, but he would have to make huge strides in the offseason for the Cowboys to feel comfortable with him starting. This would have forced the Cowboys into looking for a starting caliber outside linebacker in free agency or the draft.
There are some very talented outside linebackers in the upcoming draft, but this tagging means the Cowboys are unlikely to use their first round pick on Courtney Upshaw. However, they could still use a day two pick on Ronnell Lewis. In my opinion, the Cowboys should have let Spencer walk and then make sure they select Lewis, but it is understandable that they did not want to take a risk like that. The draft is too unpredictable to rely on selecting any one player.
I still believe the Cowboys could select Lewis, even with Spencer on the roster. Rob Ryan needs pass rushers. Not just one but several. He needs as many guys as possible on the field who are dynamic pass rushers. And while Spencer may not be the best pass rusher in the league, the Cowboys can deal with him for another season. Spencer can contribute on the field in a lot of ways. As long as the Cowboys realize Spencer is not the long-term answer opposite Ware and that they need multiple pass rushers, then franchising Spencer could be the start of a terrific offseason.
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