Depending on what happens in 2012, some of Dallas Cowboys fans' favorite players may wear different colors in 2013.
Quarterback Tony Romo is safe. Team owner Jerry Jones still likes the aging quarterback and believes that he gives Dallas the best chance to win. Plus, Jones’ options for picking another quarterback better than Romo are very slim.
In regards to the rest, there are a few players who had a chance to have an impact in 2012, but have been relatively silent.
Running back Felix Jones is one, linebacker Anthony Spencer is another, and young linebacker Victor Butler is another.
They are all unrestricted free agents next season and will either count against the Cowboys cap number in 2013 because they have been resigned, or give Dallas a little breathing room because they are no longer on the team.
Let’s take a look at a few key contracts for the Cowboys that will come off the books next season and analyze what it will take for the Cowboys to re-sign each player.
Anthony Spencer, UFA 2013, LB: $8.8 Million Cap Hit For 2012
Anthony Spencer was given the ever so exclusive franchise tag in 2012. Dallas explored giving him a long-term deal, something that Spencer wanted, but smartly decided to wait until after 2012 before doing so.
So far this season, Spencer has stepped up his play. For his career, before 2012, Spencer recorded just 23.5 sacks in five seasons.
In just six games, Spencer has three sacks and 37 tackles. If he keeps this up, he’s poised for his first double-digit sack season.
If Spencer can give Dallas at least 10 sacks this season, he will virtually lock up his long-term status with the Cowboys. Dallas is still searching for a pass-rusher to pair with linebacker DeMarcus Ware, and so far, Spencer has not worked out.
His base for 2012 alone is almost $10 million. Depending on his play this season, the Cowboys may chose to let that number roll off the books and go after another player, or sign him to a long-term deal that will probably represent a much lower cap hit each season.
Felix Jones, UFA 2013, RB: $1.8 Million Cap Hit for 2012
If any player for the Cowboys has fallen off of a cliff in terms of expectations and production, it's Felix Jones.
He had so much promise coming out of Arkansas and playing lightning to former ‘Boys running back Marion Barber’s thunder.
Jones is playing for his Cowboys life this year, and so far, things are working out for the young running back.
He has struggled with injuries throughout his NFL career and will occasionally show flashes of what he’s capable of. As soon as he does, though, it seems like he’s going down with another injury.
This season, Jones has only rushed for 207 yards on 58 carries. His per rush average is a paltry 3.6 and he has just two touchdowns.
His cap hit this season isn’t much, but Jones is playing for his football future. He’s currently playing with an injured knee and hasn’t been 100 percent for a few weeks.
With his production down in 2012 and Dallas anxious to hand the keys to DeMarco Murray, I believe this will be Jones’ last year in a Cowboys uniform.
Mike Jenkins, UFA 2013, CB: $1.6 Million Cap Hit for 2012
Mike Jenkins had one of the more interesting offseasons for the Cowboys. He demanded a trade, spoke of his disappointment with the organization, and had shoulder surgery. So, it was an eventful summer for the former University of South Florida player.
Jenkins was the talk of many trade rumors this year for the Cowboys. Because Dallas drafted cornerback Morris Claiborne and signed corner Brandon Carr, many believed that made Jenkins dispensable.
Not surprisingly, he wasn’t too happy and tried to catch the first thing burning jet fuel or coal out of dodge.
Dallas was adamant about holding on to Jenkins, and it did just that. He was not traded and has played for the team in 2012.
Now, it's a different story. Jenkins has played sparingly, but has expressed his commitment to the Cowboys and stated that he’s happy with his role.
There should be an uptick in Jenkins’ minutes on the field as slot corner Orlando Scandrick faced the wrath of Cowboys fans last week after a string of bad plays.
Plus, I still believe that Jenkins has the ability to revert back to his 2009 form when he made the Pro Bowl.
The Cowboys need all of the help that they can receive in the secondary, and holding on to Jenkins would be a smart move.
He also deserves to make more than his modest cap hit for the Cowboys next season.
Victor Butler, UFA 2013, LB: $739,000 Cap Hit For 2012
Victor Butler hinges back and forth between disappointment and potential. Fans and coaches are waiting for that breakout, but it has yet to come.
So far, he has been unable to unseat Anthony Spencer for the outside linebacker spot opposite Mr. Ware. For 2012, he has 13 tackles and one sack.
A decent showing for a non-starter, but I still believe that he needs to have a better showing on the field.
Butler’s cap hit isn’t that large, but it has significance because of what it represents. The Cowboys have the chance to build one of the best and deepest linebacker units in the league. This group is led by DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee, and with Bruce Carter having a breakout type of season, keeping Butler would only add to their veracity.
If he’s brought back in 2013, I expect his number to tick past $1 million, but nothing outrageous.
Tony Romo, Signed Through 2014, QB: $8 Million Cap Hit for 2012
Romo isn’t a free agent until 2014, but his team and the Cowboys were working on a long-term extension this past offseason.
However, according to Pro Football Talk Dallas recently started and stopped contract extension talks with Romo.
This may be viewed through two different lenses: An optimistic pair or a very cynical one.
Romo is on pace for 30 interceptions this season and many believe that the Cowboys would be crazy to sign such an inconsistent player to another expensive deal.
Dallas may not have a choice, as it will have a hard time upgrading to another quarterback who can toss 30 touchdowns and over 3,500 yards per season. Romo can be mistake-prone, but living with some of those mistakes compared to the potential payoff that comes along with his style of play may be worth the money in the extension alone.
Currently, Romo’s contract is backloaded where he is slated to make the most on the deal this season. His deal technically runs through 2016, but the last two years can be voided.
Romo is making over $8 million a season now and judging by the contract of other top tier quarterbacks, Romo’s number should increase.
San Diego Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers will make over $15 million this season and over $17 million in 2013. I don’t think that Romo will exceed that number, however, it is feasible that Romo could see at least $10 million per season.