The Dallas Cowboys Can't Afford to Use the Franchise Tag on Anthony Spencer

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistFebruary 19, 2013

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 16:  Anthony Spencer #93 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates a sack against Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers at Cowboys Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys really want to keep impending free-agent linebacker Anthony Spencer. But considering how well he played in 2012, there isn't a team in the NFL that wouldn't love to have a guy like Spencer in its starting lineup, so that's not a big surprise or secret. 

Not only was the 29-year-old one of the most consistently efficient pass-rushers in the league, but he was also rated by Pro Football Focus as the best run-stopping 3-4 outside linebacker in football. 

The problem, of course, is that Spencer would have to be paid about $12 million under the tag in 2013, and the Cowboys simply can't afford that. Using the tag on him by the March 4 deadline would give the team a week to iron out a deal before the start of free agency, but if they haven't been able to come to terms in two years, what says that'll change with all of the leverage on Spencer's side in early March?

Both sides might want the same thing, but so long as a price gap exists, Spencer will have an upper hand in negotiations. That'll be emphasized further if he's slapped with the tag. 

I wrote last week that it appears it will be impossible to re-sign Spencer (or tag him, for that matter) without extending Tony Romo's contract (the cap number for the final year of his deal is $16.8 million) and restructuring and/or releasing guys like Doug Free, Jay Ratliff and Miles Austin. That means the 'Boys have a ton of work to do in the front office between now and the start of free agency on March 12. 

Like the New York Giants, the Cowboys haven't historically used the tag very often. With Spencer's tag too costly and with no other viable candidates in contention for being franchised, expect that to be the case again in 2013. 

The only way that changes is if the two sides are extremely close on March 4 and use the tag just to extend their negotiation window.