Often underestimated by the fans and media during his time in Dallas, Anthony Spencer was highly valued by the team for his contributions to the defense. His services were valued so highly by the club that the front office invested the franchise tag on Anthony for the 2012 season and their efforts were rewarded with a 95 tackle, 11 sack season that resulted in Spencer making his first trip to the Pro Bowl. In spite of efforts to negotiate a long-term agreement with the outside-linebacker-turned-defensive-end, the two parties were unable reach an accord to keep the 2007 first-round draft pick in the fold on a long term basis. For 2013, Jerry Jones & Co. again used the franchise tag on #93. The second time around, the football gods would not be so kind to either the player or the team. After just 34 snaps, Spencer was lost for the season due to microfracture surgery on his left knee.
Before we go any deeper, lets take a look at what a typical microfracture surgery entails.
Knee microfracture surgery is performed to repair loose or damaged cartilage. A surgeon makes a quarter-inch incision on the affected knee. A small camera is inserted into the damaged knee to view the joint. A sharp pick (awl) is then used to make small microfracture holes, which cause new cartilage to generate. The drilled holes are near the defective cartilage and the number of holes is determined by the size of the area that needs to be treated. Most patients will have a 1 to 2 centimeter area of damaged cartilage that will require 5 to 15 small holes to be drilled in the bone.
The surface layer of the damaged bone (subchondral bone) is hard and lacks good blood flow. The microfracture holes allow the deeper bone marrow to access the surface layer. The deeper bone marrow has more blood supply, and the cells can then get to the surface layer and create a blood clot that releases cartilage-building cells.
According to experts in this procedure, the typical patient will need to keep weight off of the injured knee for a period of 6-8 weeks, and an active patient will be able to return to normal sports activity within 4-6 months. Of course playing in the NFL is not what is usually considered to be "normal" sports activity, so questions abound about how well Anthony Spencer's surgically repaired knee will stand up to the stress of playing at the game's highest level. There are also concerns about how the procedure will impact his level of performance.
With the salary cap limiting the Dallas Cowboys ability to pursue talent through free agency, those concerns may just work to the team's advantage. It is not just Dallas who has reason to question Spencer's ability to return to the game. Every team who might be interested in securing his services will exercise caution and that will serve to drive Spencer's cost down. For 2014, at least, he is considered damaged goods. That fact may just be enough to allow Dallas to be the team that takes a gamble that Anthony can return to the level of performance that we have seen him deliver in the past.
For the team, if they can sign Spencer to a one-year low-dollar deal, this means that they have a low risk/high reward player at what is considered to be a position of serious need. For Spencer, it is a chance to once again prove himself worthy of a high-dollar deal while also benefiting from the services of a training staff who has been involved in his rehabilitation since the beginning. For both sides involved there is an opportunity for a big win from such a deal.
A one-year deal would make sense for the Cowboys to have some cushion along the defensive line and make sense for Spencer in hopes to find a better deal in 2015.
As Joey Ickes noted recently, negotiations are underway between the Cowboys and Jordan Woy, Spencer's agent (who also represents Jason Hatcher). Although the veteran defensive end is expected to be limited during OTA's, Woy indicates that Spencer is expected to be fully ready by the time training camp rolls around. As Joey concluded, having Spencer (and possibly Hatcher as well) back in the rotation greatly increases the chances that the Dallas defensive front will pose a formidable force for Rod Marinelli to build his defense around.
Over the past two seasons, Dallas has gambled on Anthony Spencer twice. Once he came through; once the risk did not pay off. Now they have an opportunity to potentially roll the dice for a third time, this time with significantly less at risk. If it works out the risk will be minimal, but the reward could be dynamic.