It became fairly clear that the Dallas Cowboys did not plan to re-sign free agent Anthony Spencer when they gave his number 93 to second year player Ben Gardner. It became official with the announcement that he has signed a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints. While Dallas fans may feel a certain amount of sadness over the departure of a player who put in eight years of service for the Cowboys, this is a development that really benefits both the player and his former team.
Spencer was drafted in 2007 and spent the first six years with the Cowboys playing as a bookend OLB opposite DeMarcus Ware in the 3-4 defense the team used during that time. He was almost unavoidably overshadowed for most of those years by the star who was llined up on the weakside. For the first few years he was known rather derisively as "Almost Anthony" because of his many "close but no cigar" forays in pursuit of the opposing quarterback. This understated his value to the team as his role was different than Ware's, and he made major contributions in stopping the run as well as providing pressure. The perception that he was something of a bust was so pervasive it led Philadelphia Eagles writer (and longtime Eagles homer) Jimmy Kempski to make a bet with us here at Blogging The Boys over how many sacks he would get in 2012. That turned out to be a bad move on JimmyK's part, since it was Spencer's breakout year as he notched 11 sacks. Not only did the team get a strong contribution from him, but the world was able to observe Kempski first try to ignore the bet (involving him having to write nice things about Spencer and the Cowboys) and then finally sully things further in the surly fashion he wrote the requisite post.
Anyway, back to Spencer.
He had been franchise tagged for the 2012 season. Dallas was still unwilling to commit to a long-term deal and tagged him a second time for 2013, but he suffered an injury to his knee before the season started that resulted in him missing all but a handful of snaps and eventually having microfracture surgery. He attempted a comeback in 2014 on a one-year, minimum deal with the Cowboys. Given the history of players who try to recover from the same kind of surgery, it is not surprising that he was not the same player he once was, plus he was now playing in a 4-3 scheme. But he did play better as the year progressed, and his lack of production as a pass rusher was nothing unusual on a defensive line that saw far too few sacks as a unit. Now he is being re-united with his former coach Rob Ryan, who was in Dallas for Spencer's best years, in a scheme where being able to play as both a standing outside linebacker and a hands-down defensive end can be used.
And for the Cowboys, having Spencer sign with the Saints puts them back in a position to get three compensatory draft picks in the 2016 NFL Draft. According to the numbers projected at Over the Cap, Dallas was already in line for two before the Spencer deal. With the offsetting deals including his accounted for, they stand to get a fifth-round pick for Jermey Parnell, a sixth-round pick for Henry Melton, and another sixth-rounder for Justin Durant. And that is based on the assumption that Greg Hardy will earn at least $10 million on his deal, since offsets and the round of compensatory picks are based primarily on the money paid to the players involved.. Should suspension or other factors reduce his actual compensation to about $6.5 million or less, the Cowboys might wind up getting a fourth-round pick for DeMarco Murray, with Hardy then offsetting Parnell. There are a lot of other variables that could affect this, but with the looming decision from the league on Hardy, his value dropping is one scenario that is actually very likely to happen, and the potential upgraded compensatory pick is a small silver lining for a harsh punishment from the league, or for some other problem that limits Hardy's contributions this year. Even if the current projections hold, three late-round picks are still valuable, allowing Dallas to possibly use some of their other picks in trades while still getting the benefits of quantity on draft day.
It's nice to be able to not only see a player who gave the best years of his career to the Cowboys get to continue his career, but also to genuinely hope he gets a good paycheck out of it as well.