What the Cowboys decide to do with outside linebacker Anthony Spencer will likely decide the course of the offseason more than any single other decision they'll take. Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram is reporting that the Cowboys are considering using the franchise tag on Anthony Spencer.
According to Football Outsiders, the franchise tag at that position could end up costing the Cowboys around $9 million. That may not be the kind of money the Cowboys are willing to invest in the position, but the Cowboys may find themselves out of options. They do not have an immediate successor on their roster, as Victor Butler has seen little more than spot-duty on pass rushing downs and there are no other immediate candidates.
Many of the available free agents like Mario Williams, Cliff Avril or Robert Mathis will likely command prices close to or even above that $9 million mark, and carry the additional risk of not having played in a 3-4 for any extended period of time. Unless of course the noises coming out of Valley Ranch about moving to a 4-3 scheme are more than just idle chatter.
Letting a known commodity like Spencer go, simply to replace him with an unknown commodity at the same price doesn't seem like a wise decision. At the same time, if the Cowboys want equivalent production from a draft pick, they'll have to spend their first-round pick on a pass rusher. Sure, you could always hope for a pass rusher to emerge in later rounds, but hope is not a strategy.
At the end of the day, the decision on what to do with Anthony Spencer will impact free agency, the draft and ultimately the decision on which defensive scheme to use. It could easily be the most important decision the Cowboys make this offseason. Let's hope they get it right, whatever route they choose.
The Cowboys can use the tag in a two-week window starting on February 20 and ending on March 5.