For some fans last year, the sky was falling after the news broke that Spencer had been franchised. The back and forth in various threads prompted me to create a post in support of the move. My reasoning ruffled more than a few feathers and it generated a lot of insightful responses both for and against the move. So here we are again, facing another off-season and the question of what to do with Spencer. Once again, franchising him would be my choice. I'm not a huge fan of the funds it would take to do this again when you consider it's even more the second time around. However, if we're capable of restructuring our cap to fit him in long term, we should be able to squeeze him in under the tag. So why do I think franchising him is the best choice? Options...
First off, if we slap the tag on him, he's not guaranteed that money unless he signs the deal. I don't know many people (actually anyone) who believe he'll rush to the table with pen in hand. He, like all players, wants a long-term deal that will provide him with financial security now and in the future. This should allow us plenty of time to shop him. He has always been considered a very solid OLB in the NFL and now he's coming off a Pro Bowl season that saw him amass double-digit sacks.
Many of his biggest plays came at the most crucial times and that will not be overlooked by teams searching for a key component to add to their 3-4 defense. It's not out of the question that he could garner a first round offer, but more than likely any offer received would be for a second plus a later round pick(s). Many teams that run a 3-4 or a hybrid defense should be interested. Pittsburgh - will probably lose James Harrison (who's 35 anyway and has lost several steps). Houston - Wade Phillips may (never know) want to talk deal and bring in a proven player he knows. New Orleans - Rob Ryan would definitely want to talk deal since he saw first hand what Spencer is capable of doing and he's trying to turn a 4-3 into a 3-4. San Diego - they're OLBs aren't the highest quality, why wouldn't they want him? Arizona - good defense would get better. Ask yourself, if you were a GM would you be willing to trade for Spencer? All of you wanting to sign him long term should be saying yes.
Just for arguments sake, let's say no team steps forward and coughs up enough to trade for him. All that means is we have him for another year as a starting DE in our new 4-3 alignment. It buys us time to see if guys like Hatcher or Crawford can play the strong-side DE. I'd say draft a DE relatively early and let him develop his first year. If Ware or Spencer get injured, plug him in. If not, he learns and starts in 2014 as Spencer looks for greener pastures.
So, why franchise him instead of signing him long term? Well, I don't know for a fact he can play strong-side DE. He's played end from time to time, but no one can guarantee he's going to perform up to the big money it'll take to bring him back. In recent years, this team has sunk too much money in veterans that flashed greatness. Here's a list that should give everyone pause about signing Spencer long-term. Marion Barber - what the heck happened to him after he was paid? His name haunted the cap after his release. Ken Hamlin - see Marion Barber. Terrance Newman - serviceable for a little while after big contract, but injured every year after signing. His name haunted the cap after his release. Miles Austin - plays good when healthy, but that's not often enough for the money his contract dictates. Jay Ratliff - see Miles Austin. Doug Free - this is what potential-gone-bad looks like. I'm sure I'm forgetting one or two. Can anyone say Spencer wouldn't join this list?
I'm also worried about Spencer's durability. He's always been very durable throughout his career, missing only 4 games before 2012 (all four games were in the same year). In 2012 however, there were a few chinks in that armor. He was banged up and had to exit for at least a few plays in several games. He also missed two full games. Is this the start of a decline in durability? Newman, if you remember, was a stalwart on defense during his rookie contract who could always be relied on to play at or near 100% health. That was one of the big reasons the Cowboys felt safe in signing him to a second contract. We all saw how durable he was after the ink dried. Ratliff seemed to suffer a similar fate.
If those reasons aren't enough for some of you, here's one last point. We have a lot of quality young players on this team that will need to be resigned eventually. What happens when a 30-something Spencer is eating up cap space (and probably not performing up to what we'd hope for the money) and Tyron Smith's contract ends? Left tackles demand some major cash and we can't lose him and have another Free manning that all important spot. What about Dez Bryant's contract? Wide receivers make huge money too and if he keeps playing like he did in 2012, we'll need a lot of cap space in order can keep him. How about Sean Lee? Bruce Carter? DeMarco Murray? Morris Claiborne? These guys will be younger than Spencer when they're due a second contract and we'll be doing more reshuffling and cutting just to have a chance of keeping them. When that time comes, do we cut Spencer and acquire future dead money? We're already talking about doing that with Ratliff and Free. We've done that in the past with Barber, Hamlin, Newman, etc. It's time to let players go and clean up the cap so we can take care of younger players that we know fit the system.
So that's my take on it. Let's hear it everyone.