Free agency starts in less than a week and the Dallas Cowboys are about $4-5 million over the salary cap. They have work to do, and the presumption is that, to get back under the cap in time, they'll either have to restructure several contracts or get something done with Anthony Spencer long term.
Or, if they can't get Tony Romo signed to an extension that shaves some cash from his $16.8 million 2013 cap number, they could have to do both.
But I'm fascinated by Jean-Jacques Taylor's take on the Spencer situation. In an ESPNDallas.com column published Tuesday night, Taylor suggests that the Cowboys, who placed the franchise tag on Spencer earlier this week, force their best all-around defender to once again play under the tag in 2013.
Spencer was the Cowboys' best defensive player last season, and the franchise tag will give the Cowboys one more year of his services while he's in his athletic prime. Then the Cowboys can turn the position over to Tyrone Crawford, a rookie who earned a spot in the defensive line rotation last season, or someone who's not even on the roster right now.
See, there's zero reason to give Spencer a long-term deal. As long as Jerry understands that and sticks to it, it's a win for Spencer and the Cowboys.
In other words, Taylor believes the 'Boys would be better off redoing deals for guys like Jay Ratliff, Doug Free, Orlando Scandrick, Nate Livings and Dan Connor than making a long-term financial commitment to Spencer. It's impossible to avoid both, especially if Romo's contract remains unchanged.
Both methods of cap cutting could hurt the team financially in the future, especially when you consider that they've already redone a handful of contracts this offseason. Remember: The money doesn't go away, it's just delayed.
But Taylor's point is that Spencer is far from a long-term guarantee. He'll be 30 after this upcoming season and he's been at his very best when he's had a strong financial incentive to deliver. He's the best option to complement DeMarcus Ware right now, but that may not be the case two or three years down the road.
Plus, there's a huge risk attached to giving the guy a long-term deal now without knowing how he'll perform as an undersized 4-3 defensive end with his hand in the ground.
So maybe the Cowboys should make Spencer do it again. Make him prove that 2012 wasn't a fluke and then go from there. Either he helps you win games and then gets a big contract in Dallas or elsewhere or he fades and you can wash your hands of the Spencer era before March 2014 rolls around.
Refusing to negotiate with Spencer and his agent, Jordan Woy, could create an extra-sour situation and could even lead to a holdout. Instead, the best strategy—and this is rather heartless, but so is business—might be to low-ball the hell out of Spencer this offseason. Then, when you have more money to spend with cap sanctions lifted and the cap potentially rising in 2014, you can decide whether to keep Spencer long term or move on to the next one.