Anthony Spencer has had quite the roller coaster of a career in Dallas after being selected with the 26th pick in 2007's draft. Spencer was converted from defensive end to start in place of Greg Ellis, who was recovering from an Achilles injury. Once Ellis was fit to return, Spencer was demoted to a back-up role but managed to end the year with 28 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles.
After two years in Wade Phillip's 3-4 scheme, Greg Ellis departed and Spencer was made the full-time replacement. This would start a slew of expectations for the first-rounder that it seemed he would always come up short on. He was quickly deemed "Almost Anthony" for his ability to "almost" make plays. Spencer, however was a very good run stopper and kept his roster spot because of that. Both 2010 and 2011 showed maturity in his role but still failed to live up to his draft status.
The Cowboys were at a crossroads with Spencer but decided to franchise him in 2012 and they were rewarded with a breakout performance. At the time, many fans believed it was a mistake to allocate $8.856 million to a guy who never had a double-digit sack season. In this contract year, Spencer would explode onto the NFL with 11 sacks and 95 tackles, becoming the only NFL player that year to record that combination.
The following year, Dallas switched back to a 4-3 scheme under Monte Kiffin. For the second straight year, Anthony Spencer was tagged, this time costing $9.6 million. After being such a force in 2012, there were high hopes for Spencer in 2013. However, he would miss the entire preseason after undergoing a surgical procedure for what was said to be a bone bruise in his left knee. After finally returning to the lineup in week two against Kansas City, Spencer reported pain in his knee. That week it was announced that Spencer had micro-fracture surgery and would miss the remainder of the season.
Micro-fracture surgery is one of the hardest surgeries to return from. First, allow me to explain to you what the procedure is like:
Doctors will use an awl, which is a tool to make punctures in the bone surrounding the knee. These punctures are designed to stimulate blood-flow in hopes to repair the torn cartilage in that area. The human body does not regenerate cartilage on it's own. Ideally the blood will latch onto the injured area and protect the bone. I say ideally because this procedure is not always successful due to the fact it's designed to make the body do something unnatural.
When asked about Jadeveon Clowney's procedure; Dr. Jablonski compared it to a pothole being temporarily repaired with sand. If that's not a vote of confidence...Oh wait it's not. Jablonkski also stated if given the two, he'd rather have an ACL procedure. "There is just more history of being able to return to that high level of play."
For every one player to return to form, there are countless others whose career's have ended. Most notable with former Cleveland first rounder Courtney Brown. Brown was taken number one overall in 2000, had micro-fracture surgery and was out of the league by 2005.
Anthony Spencer made an unceremonious return to the Cowboys in week four and got better as the year went on. For a team to only record 28 sacks, Spencer received a positive +5.7 grade for the year according to PFF. Spencer played in 457 snaps and never started a game this season, but managed to recover a fumble and score in week 17. He also played very well in the Wildcard game against Detroit, posting a +5.0 grade. He would end 2014 with only two sacks, but had seven quarterback hits and 18 hurries.
Anthony Spencer will likely get an opportunity to remain in Dallas. The medical staff has put in a lot of effort in getting him back to form. He's also 31 years old and likely won't command much on the open market. The Cowboys are the only team that really know his value. Rod Marinelli demands a solid rotation and it's my opinion that Spencer is ready to improve in 2015. I certainly believe his strong performance at the end of 2014 is a sign of more to come.