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Spencer: Fair Market Value or hometown discount? Ready for $8M per year?

We cannot intelligently argue front office contract moves (E.G. Players 2nd or 3rd Contracts) without looking at the big picture concerning the state of our Dallas Cowboys' personnel situation.

Now Free Agents from other teams play a role in this area as well, and we have made some astonishingly bad moves there in the past few years; thankfully Jerry seems to have gotten past the horrific combination of a Matt Millen-esque infatuation with WRs and the late great Al Davis’ love of veteran cast offs from other teams under control.

Maybe that has something to do with getting Dez, and Miles working out better than could have been realistically hoped for with him being an UDFA. This and his ability to learn from mistakes and/or his increased confidence in his current talent acquisition team has led to a calmer more long term view in regards to veteran Free Agents.

But I digress from the point of this post.

We have to look at extending competitive contracts to good (I did not say great, chill out for a moment) players in their late 20s and early 30s to keep from throwing low round draft picks or other unproven players into the breach on game day. Or continue to over pay other team’s cast offs and as I have argued before, every player who hits the FA trail has warts big enough for their previous team to say goodbye and turn to a fresher, younger face.

The reasoning behind the statement that we have to extend less than stellar players? The answer is our holes in the roster for good middle career players due to our poor drafting from 2006 – 2009. There have been a few posts from the front page writers chronicling this quite well; with the most recent being OCC’s article http://www.bloggingtheboys.com/2013/5/22/4351352/dallas-cowboys-rookies-evaluating-the-playing-time-of-recent-rookie

As pointed out by this article and others, our 2006 and 2009 drafts were terrible, with 2007 being average. We have 2 starters still with us from '07. 2008 was below average, it had a very good start but we now have only O Scandrick remaining. This creates a doughnut effect on our roster, the 31 and older players are very good to generational players. The 25 and under players are showing well so far and a cause for optimism as highlighted (also by OCC, does anybody else actually work at this blog? – chill KD just funnin player) http://www.bloggingtheboys.com/2013/5/24/4360146/dallas-cowboys-young-guns-top-10-players-under-the-age-of-25

So we are working with a subpar group of homegrown talent 26 – 30 years old. All ages are based on a player beginning his career at 22, I know there are anomalies but this is as specific as I want to get right now. The first article I remember talking about this was from KD, http://www.bloggingtheboys.com/2013/4/6/4186666/dallas-cowboys-draft-grades-08-09-10-pro-football-focus

Another FPW – Tom - had an article about how smart drafting is about more than filling needs but can also be pointed at future cap space; http://www.bloggingtheboys.com/2013/5/4/4298716/dallas-cowboys-2013-draft-key-to-future-cap-solutions-jason-witten-miles-austin

So with continued solid drafting, and a bit O’ Luck, in the next 4 years we should be on excellent financial ground and able to live Steelers / Patriots large with surplus talent for a decade or more, right? Too much Blue Aid for you? Well, we will be moving along then.

For now however, we need to keep the best of our 2nd and 3rd contract guys for the next 3-4 years. I linked to all of these FPW articles so as to not get too deep in rehashing what has been written before and allow me to move onto the subject at hand; one Anthony Spencer, late the SOLB and now strong side DE for your Dallas Cowboys .

Spencer has been the fan favorite whipping boy for most of his six year career with our ‘Boys. But he has been our best pick from the Ho Hum ’07 draft class: DE/OLB Anthony Spencer

Played in all 16 games as a rookie and has played in all 16 games 4 times in his 6 years as a Pro.
* “Spencer became a full-time starter in 2009 and finished with 98 tackles, six sacks, nine tackles for loss and 36 quarterback pressures. In 2011 the outside linebacker still was inconsistent at times and failed to produce many impact plays. However, Spencer doesn't rush the passer a lot as DeMarcus Ware does and is solid against the run and in dropping back in pass coverage.” In 2012 Spencer broke out while starting 14 games and turned in the following stats: 11 sacks / 3 passes Defended / 2 forced Fumbles / 1 Fumble Recovery / 55 tackles with 40 assists.

CPT Obvious here, but we have limited choices to make with Spencer.

1. We let him play out this year’s franchise and let him walk. Benefit there is that we do not tie up more money in another 30 year old and we get a highly motivated proven player for a year and a probable compensatory draft pick for him in 2015. The best possible return from this course of action is an end of the 3rd round comp pick because he signed a high salary contract elsewhere and played at a high level in 2014.

2. We trade him to another team during or after the 2013 season and before the 2014 league year starts, but that is a long shot. Why would teams trade for him when we certainly would not franchise tag him for a 3rd year and they would get him the old fashioned way, in a bidding war.

3. The most likely Course Of Action given the argument I have made in reference to our doughnut hole roster is that we sign Little Antony to a reasonable deal. Now the 64 million dollar question (oh football god, please do not let Spencer’s deal exceed 64 million) is what is fair? Or more to the point, what can the Cowboys and Spencer live with? This of course speaks to the capitalist ideal of fair market value.

How to find fair market value and what do we use as comparables? (Little Real Estate echo here I know)

Spencer is 29 years old, a 4 year starter with a healthy 6 year career under his belt; he gets good reviews as an all around OLB and great reviews as an “edge setter” against the run. His stats are solid but unspectacular and he has no, zero, nada off field incidents in this age of 24/7 media access. He hosts football camps for kids and did not negotiate on twitter the last 2 years while the team tagged him and the media & fan base ragged him.

Let us look at his contemporaries according to the 2013 salary table for Defensive Ends, yes there are a lot of ways to compare and contrast, but this is dollar for dollar time.

**All salaries and ages below are taken from SPOTRAC website** http://www.spotrac.com/top-salaries/nfl/defensive-end/">SPOTRAC DE Salaries</a>

Spencer’s franchise tag this year is $10.627 Mil, this is just less than half of what Jared Allen will make this year @ 31 years old ($14.280M / $15.5 bonus). Less than an older Julius Peppers @ 33 YO ($12.9M / $6.5 Bonus), and is just above what Chris Long and Justin Smith make ($7.25 /$6 bonus and $7.5 / $11 bonus respectively) they are 28 and 33 Y.O.

Michael Johnson of Cincinnati is tagged this year at $11.175 Mil. This is for a DE instead of the OLB tag Spencer got this year based on last year's position.

* Table stats from Pro Football Reference Top 6 DE by Salary for 2013 (not in salary order)

Player

AGE

Games Played

Games Started

Sacks

INT

Passes Defended

FF

FR

Tackles

Assists

Spencer

29

90

67

32.5

1

13

12

5

253

103

Allen

31

141

135

117

5

45

28

17

410

92

Johnson

26

64

30

23

2

16

1

2

94

48

Long

28

80

68

42

0

6

6

2

148

35

Smith

33

189

185

75.5

3

30

13

9

564

235

Peppers

33

170

168

111.5

8

61

38

13

423

94

Looking at these six top salaried DE for 2013, our Anthony is a close comparison to Chris Long. Spencer is 14 months older, played in 10 more games in one more NFL year, missed 6 more games due to injury, and has 9.5 fewer sacks. However he has an INT, 7 more passes defended, twice as many forced fumbles, 2 ½ times as many fumbles recovered, and 105 more tackles / 68 more assists. And #93 had a kick return for 18 yards in 2008, don’t remember that one will look it up later! Both were 1st round draft picks with Long being #2 overall in 2008 and Spencer #26 in 2007.

What does this tell us? The much higher tackle/assist number (59.3 per year) indicates more plays positively engaged in runs VS Long’s tackle / assist average per year of 36.6. His 2.1 passes defended per year suggest he is more heavily engaged in the passing game as well VS Long’s 1.2 per year. So it seems that at a salary of $7.25 per year (Long’s this year) and a $6 M bonus he would be the better value as opposed to the one trick pony, albeit a sexy trick, with Long winning the pass rushing with 8.4 sacks per year VS Spencer’s 5.41.

Look at the other DEs listed here; Jared Allen is well, Jared Allen! And if Spencer was 90% of Allen we would not be talking about this, right?!

Johnson is 3 years younger and has had Mike Zimmer coaching him for 4 years, so he has some definite advantages (hate to do this but he did go in RD 3 of the 2009 draft, one pick after we got Jason Williams). His per year averages are: Sacks – 5.75 /Passes Def – 4 / Tackles/assists 35.5 This shows Spencer is close in sacks per year, behind in passes defended, and far ahead in tackles, again.

Smith is a better statistical comparison to what Spencer will be at the end of a 5 year deal if he maintains his past productivity. While he is only 4 ½ years older than Anthony he has played in over twice as many games in twice as many NFL years. If you look in every category our guy would almost exactly equal Smith’s stats in the same number of games played, except in the tackling category we have noted that Spencer excels in, but this time he loses out in the run game to Smith. He was drafted 4th overall in 2001 by the Bengals and was signed as a FA by SF in 2008 for 6 years / $45M & an $11M bonus, Average salary $7.5M per year. He was 28 ½ Years old when he signed that contract, to reiterate Spencer is 29 and 2 months old now.

Peppers is another WOW player with consistent excellence for over a decade (11 seasons). The only category we can discuss Spencer in the same breath is in Ye Olde run stopping tackle count, where Julius has only 47 per year. Another big ticket free agent, he was signed away from Carolina by the Bears at age 30 for 6 years / $84M and a team friendly $6.5M bonus for an average salary of $14M per year.

I opine Spencer belongs in the conversation with Long and Johnson; he is half a football life younger than Smith and Peppers,(who have NOT fallen off a talent cliff at age 33 despite the deluge of virtual ink claiming Anthony surely must) and will be energized by the new scheme which will simplify his duties.

Simpler assignments lead to faster execution and game speed. Also a change in position and philosophy which by design should bring about an increase in the sack stats we love to coo over. I am remembering Greg Ellis here and his opposite shift, DE to OLB. Worked out very well for Greg in his NFL golden years.

I would be most satisfied with Spencer for 3 - 4 years at 7.5 - 8 Mil each year. The question is would he accept that? Maybe we structure his deal similar - LESS $$$ but similar structure - to Ware's last contract?

DWARE deal AFTER restructure is for:

7 yrs / $78,000,000 / Average Salary $11.142 / SIGNING BONUS $20,000,000.

Stephen already said most contracts are built with an eye to restructure and with Ware's deal completed we saw the results in near term base salary and cap hit being lessened. Then when the bonus no longer counts toward the cap he gets a mighty annual raise to 12.5 / 13.750 in 2014 / 2015. SO he has incentive to play at a continued high level, the team has incentive to give him the benefit of the doubt over younger players but can cut him with only minor cap trauma after this (the 5th of the contract) year.

Plug in Little Antony at 5 years and you get something like this:

5 years / $38 Mil / Average annual salary $7.6M / Bonus $10 Mil

YEAR

BASE

S. Bonus

CAP HIT

2013

7,250,000

2,000,000

9,250,000

2014

1,500,000

2,000,000

3,500,000

2015

7,250,000

2,000,000

9,250,000

2016

8,000,000

2,000,000

10,000,000

2017

14,000,000

2,000,000

16,000,000

Spencer Gets his $10M upfront and a base of $7 ¼ this year instead of the $10.627 he was due under the tag. The team gains an extra $1.377M in cap space for 2013, and gets a good DE for a $3.5M cap hit in 2014. If Spencer is looking good after the 2015 season Stephen could restructure OR maybe we get the cap increase that has been rumored in 2015 due to the TV deals. If no restructure we could cut Spencer after 3 years for only the $4M bonus cap hit if he is rocking chair ready at the ripe old age of 32.

You see after looking at Anthony Spencer objectively he is worth $8M per year and will undoubtedly have gotten it this year if we had not tagged him. While doing the draft exercise for other teams last month I discovered the Colt’s fans had our guy as their #1 FA target. Doing comparables with the top paid guys out there at the DE position it appears the 5 year deal above makes sense. Now this is simplified, but I believe this is the market value for young MR. Spencer and if we retain his services for more than this year these numbers are what everyone needs to brace for.

* PRO Football Reference.com

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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