In a move that was long anticipated and hotly debated, the Dallas Cowboys franchise tagged Anthony Spencer, thereby securing his services at least for the 2012 season.
The tag means that Spencer is now under an $8.8 million, one-year tender. The Cowboys have until July 16 to sign Spencer to a long-term deal, if they fail to do so, Spencer will play under the tag in 2012 and be a free agent again in 2013.
Expect the Cowboys to try to agree on a long-term deal with Spencer, but at a significantly lower price than the $8.8 million Spencer would be due under the tag.
Franchising Spencer is the first step in a game of leverage between the player and the team. What the tag does is it limits Spencer's choices to effectively two options.
- He can sign the franchise tag and play for the 8.8 million for one year. That would make him a free agent again next year. He could hope that he finally has his break-out season in 2012, which would drive his price up. But his value could just as easily decline significantly in case of an injury or simply him having a bad year.
- He can accept whatever long-term offer the Cowboys put on the table. He and his agent will do everything from now until July 16th to drive that offer up, but at the end of the day, it'll be either the tag or the long-term contract. For Spencer, a long-term contract would likely have more guaranteed money than the tag, giving him more security in case of an injury. For the Cowboys, a long-term contract would allow them (if they so wish) to structure the contract in a way that could be very cap-friendly this year.
In theory, Spencer's third option would be to hold out and/or seek a trade, but that's unlikely to happen, and quite frankly, Spencer doesn't have the track record (read: number of sacks) as a player that would make this a particularly wise option.
Look for Spencer and the Cowboys to wrangle over a deal (quietly and behind closed doors) over the next few months. The last time the Cowboys used a franchise tag on a player, Ken Hamlin in 2008, it took them until July 16th to hammer out a deal. Eventually, the Cowboys and Spencer will agree to a multi-year contract that's acceptable for both sides.
And if you're wondering about the cap implications, here's Todd Archer from ESPNDallas:
For those wondering how this affects the Cowboys’ ability to sign players in free agency, don’t be too worried. They can still do whatever it is they want by moving some money around. The Cowboys were $12.6 million under the cap before the Spencer tag. The Cowboys can create about $8.6 million in space by the already agreed upon reworkings of the deals of Doug Free and Orlando Scandrick. By cutting Terence Newman, they could save either $4 million or $6 million. They can create more room by reworking DeMarcus Ware’s contract, too.
And if the Cowboys and Spencer were in fact to agree to a long-term deal, they could use a signing bonus to structure the deal in a way that the cap hit this year could probably be lower than four million, thereby creating even more cap space for this year.