Franchise Tagging Anthony Spencer Was Right Move for the Dallas Cowboys

Eli NachmanyCorrespondent IIIMarch 11, 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

With Anthony Spencer locked up for a year by virtue of the franchise tag, the Cowboys can focus on other, more pressing needs this offseason.

The outside linebacker will sign his franchise tender to guarantee himself a base salary of $10.6 million in 2013, a significant cap hit for Dallas but one well worth it when considering how good a player Spencer is.

Playing on the franchise tag in 2012, the defender made $8.8 million and actually graded out as the best 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus.

He earned top dollar with his impressive performance in 2012, but don't be fooled into thinking that just because he's an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme he's also an elite pass rusher. Spencer's best attribute is his ability to stop the run, where he also graded out as the best in the league for his position.

In contrast to players like Paul Kruger and Cliff Avril, free-agent outside linebackers (I maintain the Avril isn't going to succeed as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but I digress), Spencer isn't going to rack up sacks or pressures. Rather, he's at his best in a complementary role across from a sack artist.

Signed for just one season, Spencer wants some long-term security and with the Cowboys transitioning to a 4-3 defensive front, there may be too many moving parts in Dallas for the team to give the defender an extension. Their best option is to now trade him away.

For each of the 31 other teams in the league, the most appealing part about trading for Spencer is that the team is acquiring the rights to exclusive negotiation with a player who'd arguably be the best free agent available. Even if Spencer and the new team can't reach an agreement on a long-term pact, the safety net of one year on the franchise tag still exists.

The Cowboys wouldn't be smart to force Spencer to be a defensive end in their new 4-3. An outside linebacker who does serious damage at the position, this Cowboy should fetch a solid return on the open market.

The Colts and Browns have been overt in their pursuit of the top outside linebackers on the market, but teams like the Saints and Chargers also need to make a move and would appreciate the exclusive rights to negotiate with Spencer.

With a plethora of talent available on the defensive side of the ball in this draft, Dallas would be wise to flip their defensive end for draft picks.

If they keep him, he'd likely be an effective player, but he wouldn't be worth anywhere near the $10.6 million he's slated to earn. He'd earn his paycheck in a 3-4 setting.

Look for Dallas to make a move soon as free agency gets going on Tuesday. Monday will be their last day to get a head start on the trade market for Spencer, but don't be surprised if they wait until the Paul Kruger and Cliff Avril dust clears.

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