The Indianapolis Colts would be smart to aggressively pursue Anthony Spencer once he hits the free-agent market on April 12, 2013, and there are two other burgeoning NFL teams that should follow suit.
The Dallas Cowboys would love to keep outside linebacker Spencer on the roster, but it seems like a foregone conclusion that he'll be out of the team's price range.
According to DallasCowboys.com's Nick Eatman:
Personally, I don’t think the Cowboys will keep Spencer next year because I think he’s going to test the market first and there will be some big-time money out there for him...the second contract is the biggest contract of a player’s career. He’s got to take the best deal for him and I’m guessing it’ll probably be somewhere else.
Eatman goes on to talk about how the 'Boys are already approximately $20 million over the 2013 salary cap, even before attempting to sign Spencer. This means that it's darn-near impossible to envision a scenario in which Spencer would stay in Dallas.
Spencer is a 29-year-old outside linebacker who is coming off of his finest season as a pro, as he registered 95 tackles (55 solo), 11 sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in 2012.
He has been a steady producer for the Cowboys in his six years with the club, and teams in need of a 3-4 outside linebacker won't find a finer player on the free-agency market this spring.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rated Spencer as its No. 1 3-4 outside linebacker in 2012, and his value to Dallas' defense was indisputable—especially while DeMarcus Ware battled through injuries for much of the year.
Now we'll look at three teams with the ability to pay Spencer which have a desperate need for his talents.
Robert Mathis is an excellent pure pass-rusher, but he really struggled in the other aspects required of 3-4 outside linebackers in his first year at this new position.
PFF gave him a negative grade in every department except as a pass-rusher. He's still going to be an invaluable member of Indianapolis' defense, but the Colts need a complete player to play opposite him, and Spencer would be a marvelous fit.
Playing opposite Mathis would be eerily similar to Spencer's role with the Cowboys, since Ware has always excelled as a pass-rusher but has struggled in coverage.
Jerry Hughes has flashed at times, but he's a terribly inconsistent player who is still quite raw—despite the fact that he's entering his fourth year in the league next season.
Adding a proven veteran to Indy's new 3-4 scheme would be a smart move, and Spencer's prowess against the run would add an element that was sorely lacking last season. Opponents gained 137.5 yards a game on average against the Colts—the No. 29-ranked run defense in the NFL.
The Colts have plenty of cash to spread around, too. According to ESPN's John Clayton, Indianapolis enters the 2013 season $46 million under the cap—a figure that you can bet Spencer and his agent are well aware of.
The Browns will be making the now-popular shift to a 3-4 scheme on defense in 2013—despite the fact that Cleveland is lacking the necessary parts to find immediate success.
Ray Horton is the team's new defensive coordinator, and while players like Jabaal Sheard may be able to make a smooth transition, it's not going to be an easy one for the defense as a whole.
Pencilling in Sheard on one side, the Browns will still in need of another 3-4 outside linebacker.
The team owns the No. 6 overall pick, and it won't shock anyone to see a pass-rusher come off the board when it does. That said, most college pass-rushers are far from ready to hit the ground running as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Signing Spencer would give Horton a bookend to pair with Sheard, and Cleveland's defensive front would be formidable from Week 1 of the 2013 season with Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor and Billy Winn manning the duties inside and D'Qwell Jackson as the weak inside linebacker.
And like Indianapolis, Cleveland has money to spend in 2013. According to Clayton's report, the Browns enter this upcoming season $48.9 million under the cap.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No, the Bucs don't feature a 3-4 defense, but Tampa Bay is desperate for pass-rushers.
With only 27 sacks registered by the entire team in 2012, the Bucs featured the No. 29-ranked defense in the NFL.
This lack of pressure up front accented the team's lack of talent at the cornerback position, and as a result, the Bucs ended the 2012 season as the NFL's No. 32-ranked pass defense.
Drafting/signing cornerbacks will certainly be one of the team's offseason priorities, but signing a pass-rusher should be just as important.
Where will Spencer land?
Although Tampa Bay is a bit of a dark horse compared to the first two teams in this column, due to the scheme it runs, it's not hard to envision Spencer excelling as a 4-3 defensive end. In fact, Spencer was a defensive end at the University of Purdue, where he tallied 10.5 sacks, 26.5 tackles for a loss and five forced fumbles in 2006, his senior year.
The Buccaneers, like the first two teams, have plenty of money to spend this spring. According to Clayton's report, Tampa Bay enters the 2013 season $31.3 million under the cap.
That kind of cushion allows the Bucs plenty of leeway to explore different options to upgrade the roster—one of which should be an aggressive bid for Spencer.
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